Hong Kong Lifts COVID-19 Restrictions and Plans to Reopen Border With China

Since Beijing announced it is reopening China’s borders, Hong Kong announced that beginning on Dec. 29, most of the pandemic measures will be lifted but the mask mandate will remain in effect.

On Dec. 28, Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu said that the vaccination rate in Hong Kong is relatively high, and that more than 2.5 million people having already tested positive for COVID-19. The government decided to relax the pandemic restrictions and focus on preventing severe COVID-19 cases and deaths, and increasing the vaccination rate of people in high-risk groups.

Effective Dec. 29, all compulsory quarantine orders for close contact are lifted; anyone with close connections will only receive health advice. All social distancing measures and any restriction orders for gatherings, restaurants and bars, as well as the vaccine pass, are canceled.

Mandatory nucleic acid testing is also canceled for people entering Hong Kong, including those from abroad, mainland China, Taiwan, or Macao. Visitors are advised to perform a rapid antigen test for five consecutive days from the day of entry.

Secretary for Health Authority Lo Chung-mau said the risk of the pandemic on public health has changed in Hong Kong. A large number of positive cases makes it more difficult to define “close contacts,” while the quarantine orders also drastically increase social costs.

Under the new measures, the Department of Health will cancel the quarantine orders issued earlier. Anyone currently in quarantine at their residences or a facility will no longer be tested or locked down starting on Dec 28. The government will arrange for citizens to leave the quarantine facilities in an orderly way.

As for those in quarantine, arrangements for confirmed cases will remain unchanged. Lo stated that Hong Kong’s quarantine arrangement would depend on how the pandemic develops in other countries and would review measures accordingly.

Lo pointed out that the number of people who have received three vaccinations has increased from 23 percent in February to 83 percent in December. He said that the social costs of vaccine passes outweigh the benefits of following the policy. Hence the government decided to cancel the vaccine passes.

Lo said: “The number of imported cases from mainland China has reached almost 5.8 percent, comparable to other regions and overseas. Therefore Hong Kong is planning to reopen the borders with China and make the testing requirements for visitors coming to Hong Kong uniform.”

Lo said that wearing a protective mask is one of the most effective ways to reduce respiratory infections. Since Hong Kong is at the peak of winter respiratory conditions, it is necessary to maintain the mask mandates to avoid citizens being simultaneously affected by COVID-19 and influenza.

The Health Authority ensures sufficient supplies of medication, including antipyretics containing paracetamol, to meet local needs. It will also increase the procurement of and streamline the current arrangement for dispensing drugs to minimize unnecessary medication purchases.

Vaccinations will not be provided to short-term visitors who are non-residents. Non-local visitors must stay in Hong Kong for at least 30 days to receive a booster shot.

Bivalent and children’s vaccines will be given to Hong Kong residents first. Since the private markets arrange the vaccines available to non-local residents, the Hong Kong government’s supply will not be affected.

Non-local residents must pay for and purchase medications, at a higher price, in public hospitals and clinics.

The government will continue to operate community isolation facilities for the elderly and children. Employees who work at nursing homes or care homes for the disabled are still required to undergo rapid antigen tests daily and have regular nucleic acid tests.

All residents of nursing homes are required to conduct rapid tests daily, while visitors need to show a negative result of a rapid antigen test done that day.

Regarding the panic buying of painkillers by mainland Chinese, the authorities said that if the situation worsens, they will consider asking purchasers to provide their real names and prioritizing local needs.

Director of Centre for Health Protection (CHP), Tsui Lok-kin, said the Hospital Authority has stocked up on paracetamol. Since the beginning of 2022, the authorities have distributed kits to confirmed COVID-19 patients, that include paracetamol. Based on the current number of confirmed cases, there is over six months worth of paracetamol in reserve.

On the other hand, the government is working closely with pharmacies. Since local pharmaceutical companies also manufacture paracetamol, the authorities believe there is enough available to supply the general public.

The CHP director reminded the public that it is unnecessary to fixate on purchasing certain brands of fever medication or painkillers, as any brands containing paracetamol are just as effective.

Reporting from The Epoch Times.