Covid-19: Hong Kong extends social distancing rules to July 13, as experts call for border restrictions to be eased

Hong Kong’s current social distancing rules will be extended until July 13, the government has announced.

“In view of the latest epidemic trend and given that the effective period of the measures in the coming cycle will span to the next government term, having consulted the Chief Executive-elect’s Office and with its consent, the Government decided to extend the existing social distancing measures for 14 days with effect from June 30, ”the government said in a press release on Monday.

Bars in Lan Kwai Fong. Photo: GovHK.

Social distancing measures – including the rule requiring all patrons of bars, pubs, clubs and nightclubs to present proof of a negative rapid antigen test result taken within 24 hours – would be extended for two more weeks. Other measures, such as the mask mandate and the public gathering ban of four people or more, will also remain in place.

Quarantine for travelers

While social distancing measures were being maintained, more health experts have called for the relaxation of quarantine rules for incoming travelers.

Photo: Rachel Wong / HKFP.

“I think Hong Kong could lift its border restrictions right now,” virologist Malik Peiris of the University of Hong Kong said on an RTHK program on Monday.

He said imported cases only made up only a small portion of Hong Kong’s daily cases and were not “adding any burden.”

“[T]he people coming in – the so-called imported cases – are all well vaccinated and generally they are not the high-risk groups who are most likely to get into trouble when they get an infection, ”Peiris added.

Last week, incoming health chief Lo Chung-mau hinted at further shortening the quarantine period of travelers to five days or less, citing similar reasons.

Hong Kong previously demanded all incoming travelers to undergo 21 days of hotel quarantine, before cutting it down to 14, then the latest requirement of seven days. Despite the reduction, critics, especially from the business sector, have said the strict border restriction contributed to businesses and talent leaving the city.

No tolerance of scalping

Apart from the inconvenience to travelers, Hong Kong also faces a shortage of quarantine hotel rooms, which are snapped up within hours every time a new batch opens for booking, as well as skyrocketing room prices.

Local media reported a price hike of more than 80 per cent compared to when the designated quarantine hotel scheme was launched around a year and a half ago. The nightly rate for a room or a suite in the latest round, which will run from August 1 to October 31, ranges from HK $ 550 to HK $ 64,900.

Ramada Hong Kong Grand Hotel in Tsim Sha Tsui, one of the designated quarantine hotels.

The government last week announced it would not tolerate scalping activities and was taking steps to prevent them. Designated hotels were asked to require their partner travel agents not to block book rooms without the guests’ information and the booking must be made under a real name and full payment must be settled.

There are currently 65 designated hotels, providing around 24,000 rooms.

As of Sunday, Hong Kong has recorded a total of 1,237,877 Covid-19 infections and 9,398 related deaths since the pandemic began.

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