HONG KONG, Sept 23, 2022 (AFP): Hong Kong's decision to lift quarantine rules on Friday (Sept 23) sparked jubilation among many residents, as well as frustration that the decision to reopen to the world did not happen sooner.
Once one of the most internationally connected cities, Hong Kong has imposed some form of quarantine rules on overseas arrivals for more than 920 days.
The changing rules have been a source of frustration for many local and international residents, especially this year when much of the globe switched to living alongside the coronavirus.
A major source of information, comfort and solidarity throughout the pandemic has been the Facebook page "HK Quarantine Support Group", a self-curated community that boasts more than 97,000 members.
On Friday it dropped the word "Quarantine" from its title.
"So long quarantine hotels, we will remember the nightmare you all were since 2020," wrote one of the group's administrators.
"I think all 97.6k of us need to go for a celebratory drink somewhere," added another.
Some delighted at the prospect of being reunited with loved ones without having to pay for long spells in expensive hotel quarantine.
"I can finally see my son on a monthly basis again," wrote one commenter.
Other Hong Kongers simply rejoiced at the prospect of a holiday.
Coey Wong, a 28-year-old professional working in human resources, said she immediately booked tickets to Thailand after Friday's announcement.
"It's going to be my first trip in two years," she told AFP, adding that reopening was the right thing to do, "especially when many countries have completely scrapped quarantine for visitors".
- 'Return to normalcy far off' -
Australian resident Aaron Busch became a go-to source of pandemic information for international residents via his Twitter account @tripperhead, where he has live-tweeted hundreds of government press conferences in English.
"It's a great relief for anyone who hasn't been able to see loved ones overseas in almost three years," he told AFP.
But he said a "return to normalcy is pretty far off", citing the ubiquitous social distancing measures, mask mandates and vaccine passes still used in Hong Kong.
The return of mass tourism also looks a long way off.
Under the new rules, travellers will be subject to PCR tests on arrival and will be unable to visit restaurants and bars for the first three days.
Tourists face the prospect of being isolated in hotel rooms or government camps if they test positive.
Perry Yiu, a lawmaker representing the tourism sector, urged the government to go further.
"The government should come up with a roadmap and timetable for Hong Kong to resume normalcy so that local and overseas airlines can plan their routes in advance," he said.
"If we want a real revival, resuming quarantine-free travel with mainland (China) is the most important," he added, noting that 80 percent of tourists pre-pandemic came from China itself.
Kristian Odebjer, chairman of the Swedish Chamber of Commerce, tweeted that the lifting of quarantine "took much too long" but was "finally some good covid news" for Hong Kong. - AFP