Hong Kong drops major COVID restrictions amid push for tourism

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Following mainland China’s decision to lift major COVID-19 restrictions, Hong Kong is also preparing to terminate almost all of its years-long restrictions on Dec. 29.

Hong Kong announced on Wednesday the reopening of its borders before mid-January, along with the cancellation of the vaccine pass system.

Mandatory PCR tests and social distancing are also being dropped, but masks will still be mandatory in public spaces.

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Travelers to Hong Kong will only need to present a negative result from a PCR test conducted within 48 hours of departure, or a negative result from a rapid antigen test within 24 hours. Previously, visitors were required to take a PCR test upon arrival or present a vaccine pass.

In October, the maximum number of people allowed to gather in public was increased from four to 12. This restriction is also being removed, allowing larger groups to meet in public spaces.

Previously, Hong Kong implemented some of the most severe restrictions in the world. More than 2.5 million cases of COVID-19 have been reported in Hong Kong since the beginning of the pandemic, with 11,562 of those cases resulting in deaths.

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John Lee, the city’s leader, says that high vaccine rates are one of the major factors allowing these changes to transpire.

"The city has reached a relatively high vaccination rate which builds an anti-epidemic barrier," Lee explained at a press conference.

"Hong Kong has a sufficient amount of medicine to fight COVID, and healthcare workers have gained rich experience in facing the pandemic."

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Lee added that the city is preparing for more “targeted measures” during this process, encouraging the elderly and children to get vaccinated rather than continuing the vaccine pass system which was introduced earlier this year.

Hong Kong's overhaul of its COVID policies comes amid a push for increased tourism.

In a statement, Dr Pang Yiu-kai, chairman of the Hong Kong Tourism Board, said:

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“The new measures mark a key milestone for tourism revival and the full reopening of the tourism doors of Hong Kong. Visitors can now fully enjoy Hong Kong’s diverse offerings once they arrive in town. We believe this will attract visitors to Hong Kong from around the world. Taking into account the pace of outbound travel resumption in different visitor source markets, HKTB will gradually step up its promotions worldwide to uphold Hong Kong’s status as a world-class travel destination.”

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