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What’s required to travel to Hong Kong? Many, many tests

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Travelers headed to Hong Kong not must quarantine in a hotel upon arrival.

But they are going to must undergo a barrage of Covid tests.

They’ll go to work, take public transportation and go to supermarkets, but for the first three days, travelers cannot go into “high-risk premises” akin to restaurants, bars and gymnasiums.

Visitors who plan an eight-day trip must take 12 tests — 4 PCR and eight rapid antigen tests — which averages to 1.5 tests per day.

Furthermore, those that test positive must isolate in a community facility for at the very least per week.

Still, the relaxed rules are welcome news to town’s residents, who’ve endured hotel quarantine restrictions of up to 3 weeks at various points through the pandemic.

The news got here the day after Hong Kong lost its No. 3 rating on the The Global Financial Centres Index, ceding its position to Singapore, which climbed three places — surpassing Hong Kong and Shanghai — to change into Asia’s top financial center.

The brand new rules

The latest rules, effective Monday, require that before departing, travelers must:

  • Test negative via a self-administered rapid antigen test
  • Report the test end in an internet health declaration
  • Obtain a health declaration QR code to be presented before departing and upon arrival
  • Be vaccinated to enter, or have a medical exemption certificate (if a non-resident and aged 12 or older)

After arriving, travelers must:

  • Take a PCR test on the airport, nevertheless on days 2, 4 and 6 (the arrival date is day 0)
  • Take day by day rapid antigen tests from days 1 to 7
  • Submit to 3 days of medical surveillance, during which period they have to avoid places like restaurants, nightclubs and salons
  • Follow a four-day self-monitoring period

A rush to depart, less interest to enter

Friday’s announcement spurred a surge of outbound flight interest, in line with the travel booking company Expedia.

Flight searches from Hong Kong to Japan saw a 10-fold increase within the three days following the announcement, in comparison with the week prior, while flight searches to Taiwan saw a 12-fold increase through the same time period, in line with Expedia.

The highest flight searches by Hong Kong travelers on Expedia over the weekend were to:

  1. Osaka, Japan 
  2. Tokyo, Japan 
  3. Seoul, South Korea
  4. Bangkok, Thailand 
  5. Sapporo, Japan 
  6. Taipei, Taiwan 
  7. Taichung, Taiwan 
  8. Singapore 
  9. Fukuoka, Japan 
  10. London, United Kingdom  

Nonetheless, travel interest to Hong Kong was rather more tepid.

Expedia’s search data for accommodations in Hong Kong increased 50% over the weekend, in comparison with the week before the announcement.

Interest in going to Hong Kong wasn’t dominated by regional travelers either. The UK, Canada and the US were the highest inbound markets, in line with Expedia’s flight search data.

Pang Yiu-kai, chairman of the Hong Kong Tourism Board, acknowledged on Tuesday that the eased rules are “expected to initially attract mainly business travelers, family visitors and returning Hong Kong residents.”

A step forward, yet still behind the times

Scrapping hotel quarantines is a “step forward,” said Joseph Armas, executive director of Hong Kong’s American Chamber of Commerce.

But to essentially boost town’s tourism and hospitality sector, Armas said the remaining regulations have to be removed.

Japan is a recent example of a rule-laden reopening strategy that drew far fewer tourists than expected.

Japan announced Thursday travelers can be allowed to travel freely through the country starting Oct. 11, ending restrictions that were said to be confusing travelers probably the most. That very same day, flight searches to Japan almost doubled, in line with Expedia’s data.

Regina Ip, convenor of the Hong Kong Executive Council, said the “next logical step” for Hong Kong is to remove the three days of medical supervision that prohibits travelers from dining in restaurants.

Ip said she expects measures to be further relaxed next month after Hong Kong’s Chief Executive John Lee delivers his policy address on Oct. 19.

Prelude to China’s reopening?

The easing of Covid-19 measures in Hong Kong spurred hope amongst residents of China that they might soon see relaxed rules as well.

China’s borders have been shut since March of 2020, because the pandemic spread globally.

Currently, travelers entering the country must quarantine at a centralized facility — akin to a hotel — for seven days, followed by an extra three days at home before going out.

“Most of the businesses and residents in Hong Kong depend on the mainland, and that travel forwards and backwards is critical to their businesses,” Armas told CNBC’s “Squawkbox Asia” on Monday.

Hong Kong's Covid restrictions could be eased further next month, says official

Even though it looks as if there’s light at the top of the tunnel, China is unlikely to see “significant easing” of Covid measures until next spring, said Andrew Tilton, chief Asia-Pacific economist at Goldman Sachs.

The elderly in China still need “a round of booster shots” and the federal government would need to ensure it has enough medication, should one other Covid wave occur after the country reopens, he said.

“China is a giant country. We’re just one city … I’m undecided our approach might be applied to the complete country,” said Ip.

There might be some excellent news for residents in China though.

After almost three years, Macao is about to reopen its borders to travelers from China in the approaching weeks, Reuters reported.

The world’s largest gambling hub has been badly hit by China’s zero-Covid policy, as its “primary customer flows” come from the mainland, said Matthew Ossolinski, chairman of Ossolinski Holdings. When borders between China and Macao reopen, “it’ll be interesting to see if there is a stampede or a trickle, but there’s an infinite amount of pent-up demand,” he added.

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