Hong Kong tightens COVID-19 restrictions to curb Omicron variant

Published on : Friday, December 10, 2021

Hong Kong residents returning from the United States will have to spend their first seven days of quarantine in a government camp, with the city’s health authorities poised to elevate the country to the highest Covid-19 risk level.

An announcement on the change is expected as soon as Friday evening, according to two sources familiar with the arrangement. It will be the first time health authorities have moved a country outside Africa into the highest category of risk.

According to a government press release, the Omicron case, the city’s fifth so far, involved a 37-year-old man who arrived from the US on Tuesday and was among the seven new infections confirmed on Thursday. The man had received two doses of the BioNTech coronavirus vaccine, and was so far asymptomatic.

There are already a total of 66 countries – including the US – in Hong Kong’s high-risk Group A, meaning non-residents from those places are not allowed to enter the city and residents must undergo 21 days of quarantine. Within that group, however, 12 countries are subject to even more stringent quarantine measures due to outbreaks of Omicron or their suspected risk of exporting the variant to Hong Kong.

Under the “enhanced” surveillance measures, city residents returning from those 12 countries need to spend their first seven days in Hong Kong at the Penny’s Bay quarantine centre, where they are subject to daily testing. They then need to spend their remaining 14 days of quarantine in a designated hotel, subject to testing every other day.

The first Omicron case in the US was reported on December 1. Since then, at least 43 cases have been recorded in the country.

Health minister Sophia Chan Siu-chee had said previously if there was suspected community transmission of Omicron in a country, the authorities would move it into the category with the strictest quarantine and testing rules.

Local transmission has already occurred in numerous countries in Group A, such as Britain, Germany, Denmark and Norway, but they have yet to be upgraded to the enhanced surveillance regime.

Moving the US into the enhanced surveillance category is likely to be unpopular with travellers given the initially poor reputation of Penny’s Bay, which was first built only to house close contacts of Covid-19 patients.

However, those with knowledge of the facility say services have recently improved, and internment at Penny’s Bay is free of charge.

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