After 14 days of zero local Covid-19 cases, HK to ease rules

Hong Kong has recorded between one and seven daily imported cases in the past month. - AFP

HONG KONG (The Straits Times/ANN): Officials will further adjust social distancing measures as the city achieved zero local coronavirus cases for 14 days in a row on Monday (June 21), with quarantine rules to be shortened to seven days soon.

From June 30, vaccinated Hong Kong residents who test positive for antibodies against Covid-19 will have their mandatory hotel quarantine cut to seven days instead of the current range of 14 to 21 days, when they return to the city.

This rule can also apply to non-residents coming to Hong Kong after officials firm up the details of the scheme.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam on Monday (June 21) said that residents can undergo the antibody test before flying out of Hong Kong so that when they return and test negative for the virus, their quarantine can be shortened to seven days.

These were announced at a 90-minute briefing, where Lam promised that the government will continue to adopt a "vigorous yet precise approach" to keep imported cases at bay.

Currently, non-Hong Kong residents can enter Hong Kong only if they are from low-risk countries like Australia and New Zealand.

Flights from places deemed extremely high risk will continue to be banned, while flight suspensions could kick in if mutated strains are found.

Hong Kong has recorded between one and seven daily imported cases in the past month.

So far, there have been more than 11, 800 infections and 210 deaths since the pandemic hit.

From Thursday, for two weeks, restaurants can run at full capacity, up from 75 per cent, if all their staff are fully vaccinated and two-thirds of their customers have had at least the first dose of a vaccine.

Dine-in services can still last till 2am, but each table will be able to sit up to 12 patrons, up from eight.

Eateries where all staff have at least the first shot of a vaccine and customers use the contact tracing LeaveHomeSafe app will be allowed to run at 75 per cent capacity, up from 50 per cent. Dine-in services currently end at midnight with patrons per table capped at six. In this instance, customers do not need to be vaccinated but have to use the LeaveHomeSafe app.

Banquets will be capped at 180 guests, but the four-person cap on public gatherings stays.

Tables at bars and clubs can have up to four patrons, up from two, only if all staff and customers have had at least one jab.

In karaoke lounge and mahjong parlours, the number is raised to eight per table if they meet vaccination requirements.

Those in a gym class need not wear masks if they are fully vaccinated.

Religious gatherings, weddings and business meetings will be allowed at a venue's full capacity so long as two-thirds of the participants are inoculated.

"Some people will still think that they are on the stringent side, but we do need to rely on an enhanced vaccination rate in order to have further relaxation," said Lam.

She noted that Hong Kong's vaccination rate is "not satisfactory" and is lower than the mainland, Singapore, European countries and Israel.

Since the inoculation drive began on Feb 26, about 28.5 per cent of Hong Kong's 7.5 million population have received their first jab, while more than 3.2 million doses have been administered.

Still, Lam said life is slowly returning to normal since mid-April, with more businesses resuming operations, large-scale events like Art Basel held and the resumption of face-to-face classes in all schools - all of which are "good signs" for Hong Kong's economic recovery.

The Asian financial hub's economy grew 7.9 per cent in the first three months of the year, while the jobless rate stood at 6 per cent for the three months from March, down from 6.4 per cent for the months of February to April. - The Straits Times/Asia News Network

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