Hong Kong’s hospitality industry has called for both clearer guidance and compensation after authorities confirmed travelers entering the city will soon be able to spend less time in quarantine if they have been vaccinated against Covid-19 .
But a prominent health expert has warned that the long-awaited easing of isolation rules could open the door to a new outbreak, noting that the fourth wave was extended by an arrival who ended quarantine without screening to catch her. infection.
The city extended its streak of zero local coronavirus cases to more than two weeks on Tuesday, with the last seven infections imported. Six were from Indonesia, while the seventh was from a sailor. The total number of cases stood at 11,896, with 210 related deaths.
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General manager Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor revealed on Monday that the mandatory quarantine for fully vaccinated arrivals from low-risk destinations that have tested positive for coronavirus antibodies would be reduced from half to seven days as of June 30. , starting with the inhabitants of the city.
The next phase of easing would apply to all vaccinated travelers entering from countries classified as medium or low risk, she said.
While Hong Kong people will be able to take an antibody test before leaving and lock themselves in a seven-day quarantine for their return, other vaccinated arrivals will have to set aside 14 days of isolation, which will be halved if their test for antibody is positive.
But the uncertainty over the length of stay worries some hoteliers about complicated booking procedures and a potential loss of income.
Michael Li Hon-shing, executive director of the Hong Kong Hotel Owners Federation, said the government had not consulted with the industry on the new isolation arrangements.
“The government announced shortened quarantine periods but did not consider whether it was possible for hotels to operate in this way,” Li said.
“The new rules are problematic. Are vaccinated travelers supposed to book a 14 or 7 day stay? We don’t know either, and designated hotels will have a lot of problems if guests end up shortening or extending their stay by a week.
The To post contacted health authorities for further clarification.
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Tourism lawmaker Yiu Si-wing said he hoped to meet with government officials and explain that while shortening the quarantine period would help make it easier for business travelers and travelers to return to the city. Hong Kong overseas hotels may not benefit from an increase in their income.
Under a mechanism in place since late last year, the government guaranteed 50% occupancy for designated quarantine hotels and provided a subsidy if the proportion fell below that level. , did he declare.
Yiu suggested that the government could pay for the unused room reservation week for guests who left early after testing positive for antibodies.
“Hotels will need to find an operational solution for guests to book 14-day blocks but will effectively treat them as a one-week quarantine stay for vaccinated people who test positive for antibodies,” he said. declared.
The city has 33 designated quarantine hotels offering around 9,000 rooms, most of which have already been booked for the summer months.
Yiu said he expected business travel to resume after August, especially as more people from overseas countries were vaccinated and drawn to Hong Kong by the quarantine of seven. days.
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Raymond Liu Wai-man, general manager of Metropark Hotel Kowloon, one of the properties designated for quarantine, has expressed fears that the industry could make up for lost revenue under the new arrangements by accepting walk-in guests. you.
“The first phase should go well because Hong Kong people can get the antibody tests in Hong Kong before they leave, and if they come back within three months, their results will still be valid,” Liu told a radio show. .
“But the next phase will be difficult. Customers would reserve their rooms months in advance. But when their quarantine period is interrupted because they meet the requirements for the antibody test, the hotel will then have a suddenly released seven-day block. “
Since most vaccinated travelers would be able to present antibodies, hotels might view a 14-day quarantine reservation as most likely to end up being a seven-day stay, he added.
Infectious disease specialist Dr Ho Pak-leung described the shortened quarantine period for vaccinated travelers as a “daring relaxation” and warned of a possible risk of local transmission.
Ho explained that the chance of detecting imported infections through testing during the quarantine period was around 70% for seven days of isolation and up to 97% for a 14-day quarantine.
He noted that the fourth wave of infections in Hong Kong was prolonged after the detection of an imported case following a three-week isolation period.
“If you’re from a high-risk country and are vaccinated, it’s reasonable to shorten the quarantine from 21 days to 14 days,” Ho said. “But reducing it to just seven days… would mean 30 percent of [imported infections] could be transmitted in the community.
Hong Kong is one of the few places in the world that has kept the number of Covid-19 cases and deaths to a minimum, but has struggled to reopen to travelers due to residents’ reluctance to get vaccinated.
After a streak of zero local infections, authorities in Hong Kong announced on Monday a further easing of social distancing measures that will take effect from Thursday.
As part of the city’s “vaccine bubble” plan, restaurants where staff members have received at least one dose of vaccine and all customers use the government’s “Leave Home Safe” hazard exposure app will be allowed to operate at 75% of their capacity, compared to 50 percent.
Bars and pubs, which must ensure all staff are fully vaccinated and can only allow customers who have received at least one injection, can accommodate four people per table, up from two previously.
Lam said factors such as the local infection situation and the need to resume business activities were taken into account in the decision to lift some restrictions.
“I was very clear and admitted that in determining measures of social distancing, there is no exact science. It’s a judgment based on several factors, ”she said in a weekly briefing.
Additional reporting by Natalie Wong and Gigi Choy
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