HONG KONG, Dec 28 (Reuters) – Hong Kong will lift its strict COVID-19 rules from Thursday, city leader John Lee said, adding that arrivals will no longer need to undergo mandatory PCR tests, while the city’s vaccinations will also be scrapped.
Lee said at a media briefing on Wednesday that all events will be canceled on Thursday, except for the wearing of masks, which remain mandatory.
“The city has achieved a relatively high vaccination rate, which creates a barrier against the epidemic,” Li said.
“Hong Kong has enough medicines to fight against COVID, and medical staff have gained a wealth of experience in dealing with the pandemic,” he said.
Li said his government aims to open borders with mainland China by January. 15 and was working with border authorities to ensure an orderly reopening.
According to him, the authorities are preparing to cancel all restrictions.
“With six months of preparation to do it, the timing is right to do it,” Lee said. “The whole society is preparing for this. We are doing all this according to our local epidemic situation.”
Hong Kong’s vaccination pass requirement, which was introduced in February and is mandatory for people to enter most venues in Hong Kong, will end on Thursday. Social distancing rules, such as restrictions on gatherings of more than 12 people in public places, will also be lifted from Thursday.
The city has been following China’s lead in the fight against the novel coronavirus for nearly three years, with both places being the last bastions to adopt zero COVID policies.
The removal of the borders is likely to result in an increase in travelers to the former British colony, who previously avoided it because of the strict restrictions.
In a sudden policy shift, China this month began lifting the world’s strictest COVID-19 lockdown and extensive testing regime. The country will stop requiring incoming travelers to go into quarantine starting in January. 8, officials said this week.
Restrictions on travel between Hong Kong and the mainland were imposed in early 2020. The reopening has been postponed several times due to outbreaks in Hong Kong or the mainland.
The government announced in December that from the middle of the month, international passengers arriving in Hong Kong are no longer subject to COVID-related movement controls or restricted entry to certain locations.
Business groups, diplomats and many residents have criticized Hong Kong’s COVID-19 rules, saying they threaten its competitiveness and standing as an international financial center.
The rules have affected Hong Kong’s economy since early 2020, accelerating an exodus of businesses, expats and local families who are leaving amid Beijing’s efforts to take closer control of the former British colony.
Additional reporting by Jessie Pang and Angel Woo; Edited by Tom Hogue, Lincoln Feast and Muralikumar Anantharaman
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