Coronavirus: HK to overhaul anti-pandemic rules and streamline risk-level categories for countries

04-Aug-2021 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 5:02 AM Print This Post

Five-tier system will be condensed into three risk levels high, medium and low

All travellers must provide a negative virus test 72 hours before departure

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Fully vaccinated residents from high-risk countries can return to the city

Vaccinated non-residents from medium-risk countries can enter the city

Travellers from high-risk countries must quarantine for 21 days in designated hotels

Foreign domestic workers vaccinated in Hong Kong will be allowed to return to the city

Civil servants, airport workers, quarantine hotel staff, drivers for inbound travellers, school employees, care home staff and public hospital workers must be vaccinated

Community vaccination centres will continue to operate until October

Schools will be able to resume full-day classes if at least 70 per cent of staff and pupils are vaccinated

Hong Kong will overhaul its anti-pandemic rules and streamline its categorisation of countries deemed Covid-19 risks to allow more fully vaccinated residents stranded overseas to return home along with foreign domestic helpers and businesspeople waiting to come in.

Authorities are also pushing everyone on the government payroll not only civil servants but also employees in key sectors to be vaccinated or undergo regular testing at their own expense.

The existing five tiers under which countries are placed based on the risk they pose will be condensed into three starting from next Monday, a source told the Post, and those currently categorised as extremely or very high risk will be consolidated into a new top tier labelled as “high risk”, from which only fully vaccinated Hongkongers will be allowed back in.

This could bring about the lifting of flight bans on Britain, India, Brazil, Indonesia and the Philippines, among others.

Announcing the new rules on Monday, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said strict enforcement would continue, but the adjustments would allow stranded Hong Kong residents, including students studying overseas and foreign domestic helpers, to return.

“After 56 days now without any local [Covid-19] cases, we have basically achieved the goal of zero infections in the community,” she said, flanked by some of her top policy officials at a press conference. “The fourth wave has ended, but we can only relax [our policies] prudently based on vaccination.”

The revamped strategy comes on the back of a sustained period of low daily infections brought in from overseas, but the city is still unable to take the economically crucial step of reopening its border with mainland China, which is dealing with a surge in cases of the more transmissible Delta variant.

As part of the new categorisation, countries currently deemed high and medium-risk will be merged into a new medium-risk tier that will include most countries, including the United States, France, Germany and Japan. Non-residents from this category will be allowed to enter the city as long as they are fully vaccinated with officially recognised certification, and will have to undergo quarantine.

Officials unveiled a three-tier quarantine regime for arrivals, with the toughest 21 days in a designated hotel to remain for those from high-risk countries, while unvaccinated travellers would have to isolate for seven days more than their vaccinated counterparts.

They also introduced new rules for schools, which can resume full-day classes if 70 per cent of staff and pupils are vaccinated.

For high-risk countries, the city will only recognise travellers’ vaccinations if they have been jabbed in Hong Kong or mainland China, or got a shot from an institution recognised by the World Health Organization. Only Britain and Ireland fit the criteria.

Vaccination certificates issued by local health authorities will, however, be accepted for medium and low-risk countries.

With Hong Kong being a well-connected international city, Lam said there was “simply no room for complacency” and not subjecting travellers to quarantine or restrictions would defeat the “efforts of many people over many months”.

Under the new rules, all arrivals must show a negative virus test taken 72 hours before their flight. In the past, some vaccinated travellers were exempted from the requirement.

Antibody tests, previously seen as key to stopping the virus from entering the city, will be optional for people arriving from medium-risk countries who want to halve their hotel quarantine and isolate for the remaining seven days at home. But some travellers will have to undergo screening for the virus as many as seven times while under isolation.

Domestic helpers from Indonesia and the Philippines, previously barred from entering the city because both countries are listed in the highest-risk category, will be able to return if they have been vaccinated in Hong Kong.

Those already in the city and between contracts will be able to travel home and return as long as they are first inoculated in Hong Kong. But all of them must be quarantined for 21 days upon entry in one or two specified hotels.

Hong Kong Union of Employment Agencies chair Thomas Chan Tung-fung said the focus appeared to be on helpers already working in Hong Kong, not those looking to come to the city.

“For employers looking for new helpers, the measure does not help in any way. It does not help to solve the shortage of overseas workers in Hong Kong,” he said.

Labour chief Law Chi-kwong said talks were under way with authorities from both countries on how to validate their vaccination certificates.

Lam declined to respond to questions on when travel with the mainland could resume.

Meanwhile, airport staff, coach drivers to quarantine hotels and staff of such properties must get vaccinated or they will lose their jobs.

Civil servants, care home workers, public hospital employees and staff at schools also need to get vaccinated or pay for Covid-19 tests out of their own pocket.

The government would no longer provide free virus testing for these groups unless they were certified unfit for jabs by a doctor, officials said.

“It is not forcing people to be jabbed,” civil service chief Patrick Nip Tak-kuen said.

Nip, in charge of the city’s jabs drive, also said Hong Kong’s 29 community vaccination centres would operate until October rather than September as previously scheduled.

The city, which confirmed three imported infections on Monday, inched closer to having half of its population inoculated, with 47.9 per cent of residents aged 12 years and above having received their first dose, Lam said.

Full-day classes could resume in schools as early as September 1 if at least 70 per cent of students and teachers had been vaccinated, education minister Kevin Yeung Yun-hung said.

Fully jabbed pupils could also be allowed to take extracurricular lessons for the remaining half-day if their schools did not run full-day classes.

Lin Chun-pong, chair of the Hong Kong Association of the Heads of Secondary Schools, said institutions would cooperate over the new measures, which could help boost the inoculation rate.


Category: Hong Kong

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