Step to lift travel restrictions comes amid fears the former British colony will lose its competitive edge.
Hong Kong is lifting its controversial quarantine for arrivals starting next week, bowing to mounting pressure to end more than two and a half years of isolation that has hammered the economy and driven talent out of the financial center.
The Chinese territory will resume quarantine-free access from Monday, Hong Kong leader John Lee announced this during a press conference on Friday.
“We need to enable connectivity to the rest of the world so that we can have economic momentum,” Lee said, urging the city not to be “flat” against the coronavirus.
Travelers to the city are currently subject to three days of hotel quarantine, followed by four days of medical supervision, during which they are not allowed to enter certain locations, including bars and restaurants.
Under the new scheme, arrivals will still have to undergo three days of medical surveillance which will be lifted following a negative COVID test result, dampening the prospects of a sharp upturn in tourism. Travelers must also undergo a COVID-PCR test upon landing, followed by three consecutive tests in the days following their arrival.
The announcement comes after months of warnings from businesses and residents that the former British colony, which bills itself as “Asia’s global city”, is losing its competitive edge to regional rivals such as Singapore.
The pandemic restrictions, along with a Beijing-led crackdown on dissent, have been blamed for an ongoing exodus that has seen more than 200,000 people leave since 2020.
Hong Kong, caught between mainland China’s ultra-strict “zero-COVID” strategy and calls to restore international travel, is one of the last economies to end pandemic quarantine.
Taiwan announced on Thursday that it would end its quarantine for arrivals in mid-October, while Japan has opened the door to the resumption of mass tourism with the return of visa-free entry and the end of restrictions on daily arrivals starting next month.
Gary Ng, senior economist at investment bank Natixis, said Hong Kong’s announcement was a “much late step” to restore the city’s competitiveness, but did not go far enough.
“The move will help the airline industry in outbound tourism and business travel, which is a welcome and positive move for Hong Kong residents,” Ng told Al Jazeera.
“However, it will not be enough to get the economy back on track, as it is still far from a full opening in attracting inbound visitors. There are too many other limitations. No one wants to come to a city with the ongoing mandatory COVID testing, a mandatory mask requirement, and the tourism health code system.