Last Friday, the Hong Kong Government announced that it would end hotel quarantine for inbounding travellers starting from September 26, 2022. Now, new arrivals will adhere to the “0+3” quarantine arrangement. This policy mandates that all travellers complete a PCR test upon arrival in Hong Kong. After the test, they can head home and be kept under medical surveillance for three days while awaiting the results, and this new system is called the “Test-and-go” arrangement. During the medical surveillance period, travellers can go to school or work, however, they cannot enter bars nor eat at restaurants until the attainment of a negative PCR test report and the termination of the three-day quarantine period.
The relaxation of Hong Kong’s strict epidemic prevention policy aims to encourage tourism and improve the economy through travel. According to Financial Secretary Paul Chan, it is estimated that a deficit of more than $100 billion will be recorded in the financial year 2022–23. As stated on the Hong Kong Government’s website, “With the economic downturn, it can be expected that the government’s revenue will be lower than expected, even though its expenditure has increased.”
Many believe this is a positive development, especially as the “0+3” policy comes in time with the border reopening of countries such as Japan and Taiwan. In recent weeks, locals have flocked to purchase tickets to travel overseas with websites: Hong Kong Immigration and Cathay Pacific experienced heavy lag due to the large flow of user logins, showing the new policy’s effectiveness in encouraging travel and tourism in Hong Kong. According to Trip.com, between 00:00 and 15:45 Hong Kong time on Sept 23, the number of flight visits “surged 120 times” compared to last week; the top five outbound destinations were Tokyo, Bangkok, Osaka, Seoul, and Singapore.
Although the change is welcomed by many, some question if this action is made too late. In an interview with the Hong Kong Free Press, the Democratic Party’s healthcare policy spokesperson Ramon Yuen said that the cost of waiting for business throughout the pandemic was too high and the policy was not effective enough to attract overseas tourists to Hong Kong. Furthermore, the slow action from the Hong Kong Government has caused Hong Kong to be less competitive in the international financial markets.
Yet, Chief Executive John Lee remains confident in the efforts that the Government is taking to keep Hong Kong COVID-free while increasing Hong Kong’s economic momentum. He explains at Friday’s press conference that the new measures will “strike a balance between risk and economic gain” and that the new “0+3” measure will maintain Hong Kong’s economic competitiveness under controlled risk. Further citing that this change is a calculated risk made after observing the socio-economic impacts of loosening COVID restrictions in overseas policies.
This policy is a good idea to make Hong Kong competitive again, as they now have similar quarantine rules as other countries such as Singapore and Japan.”
After the announcement, many travellers started to make plans to go abroad or come home to Hong Kong. Nikki Cheung, a 21-year-old Taiwanese college student who currently lives in Hong Kong, is planning to go back to Taiwan around mid-October. She says that the new policy encourages her to travel more as she dislikes the extra expenses of time and money on quarantine. Cheung welcomes the new policy as she believes it will help improve Hong Kong’s economy and attract more foreign investors thus creating remarkable business opportunities. She says, “This policy is a good idea to make Hong Kong competitive again, as they now have similar quarantine rules as other countries such as Singapore and Japan.”
Sin also showed concern about the ever-changing COVID policies and was unsure whether the “0+3” quarantine arrangement was here to stay.
Similarly, the policy has affected inbound traveller Dory Sin, a 27-year-old Hong Kong citizen who gave birth in the United States. She is planning to fly back to Hong Kong with her child and visit her family. For a mother such as Sin, she believes that the “0+3” quarantine measure is helpful, as she can invest more of her time and money in Hong Kong with friends and family instead of being cooped up in a hotel room. Asking about what she thought of the new policy, she was skeptical of the effectiveness it had for boosting the economy since many countries overseas do not have a mandatory quarantine scheme. She says that “In foreign countries, we have all resumed our normal lifestyles. My foreign husband also thinks that the ‘0+3’ arrangement in Hong Kong is not attractive to foreigners at all.” Sin also showed concern about the ever-changing COVID policies and was unsure whether the “0+3” quarantine arrangement was here to stay. She found it difficult to plan a trip back to Hong Kong, as the border could close at anytime.
However, it seems like the Hong Kong Government is pushing to fully open borders with no quarantine restrictions soon. According to a statement released by the Chairman of Chinese University’s Department of Medicine and Therapeutics David Hui Shu-Cheong, he states that if there is no significant spike in COVID cases within Hong Kong during the implementation of the new policy, there will be plans to follow a “0+0” quarantine arrangement in the near future. He also strongly advised the government to eliminate all travel restrictions for Hong Kong, as he believes that hassle-free travel to Hong Kong is the only way the city can remain competitive in an increasingly open-bordered international economy.