Hong Kong ends hotel quarantine as Asia tiptoes out of pandemic

HONG KONG — Hong Kong announced on Friday that it was lifting mandatory hotel quarantine for overseas arrivals, ending one of the world’s strictest Covid-19 policies as Asia follows other parts of the world in transitioning out of the coronavirus pandemic.

Since November 2020, the Chinese territory and international financial hub has required all arrivals from overseas to stay in a designated quarantine hotel for as long as 21 days, at travelers’ own expense. Travelers to Hong Kong — which is home to a large number of Americans and other expatriates — have often complained about poor conditions in the cramped hotels, as well as dramatic increases in prices that hotels set themselves.

Starting Monday, international travelers to Hong Kong will still have to take a P.C.R. test upon arrival at the airport, but they do not have to wait for the result. Their movements around the city will be restricted for the first three days after arrival, with entry to bars and restaurants prohibited until they pass a second test.

Hong Kong’s announcement comes a day after Japan and Taiwan also eased longstanding border restrictions. On Thursday, Japan said it would welcome all independent tourists starting Oct. 11, reinstating visa-free travel and lifting a cap on the total number of visitors.

Taiwan, which currently requires three days of home quarantine for overseas arrivals, said Thursday that it planned to end quarantine on Oct. 13, depending on the number of cases over the next week.

Countries like Australia, New Zealand and Singapore that closed their borders early in the pandemic are already fully open to outside visitors and have largely lifted restrictions.

The biggest outlier continues to be mainland China, the only major economy that has stuck with a “zero-Covid” strategy of closed borders, isolation of confirmed cases, mass testing and lockdowns. International travelers arriving in mainland China are required to spend at least 10 days in some form of quarantine.

This week, at least 27 people in Guizhou Province were killed in a bus crash on the way to a quarantine facility, drawing outrage online.

Chinese President Xi Jinping, who has staked his credibility on the success of “zero-Covid,” is unlikely to change course ahead of a crucial Communist Party congress next month at which he is expected to secure an unprecedented third term in office.

Chinese officials say their Covid policies have saved lives, pointing to high death tolls in the United States and other countries, but they have also contributed to an economic slowdown and led foreign investors to reconsider their long-term presence in the country.

“Ideology is trumping the economy,” the European Union Chamber of Commerce in China said in an annual position paper released on Wednesday.

Hong Kong, a former British colony that returned to Chinese rule in 1997 under the principle of “one country, two systems,” has been torn throughout the pandemic between two conflicting priorities: reopening its border with mainland China versus reopening to the rest of the world. Mainland officials signaled this week that they had no objection to Hong Kong easing its Covid policies.

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