Draconian COVID Regulations in Hong Kong
Austin Taylor covers how a strict COVID crackdown in Hong Kong affects travellers & residents.
Generally, Asian countries have taken much tougher stances on COVID-19 than their Western counterparts. This is especially so in Hong Kong, where any travellers who are actually eligible to enter the territory are required to undertake a 2020-esque two or three week quarantine in a government designated hotel. Whilst most local residents are happy with the current restrictions -which seem to preserve domestic normality- many outside of Hong Kong, especially students who will be studying there next year, are wondering how effective these quarantine rules are, what their purpose is, and, importantly, when they will be relaxed.
police will happily issue hefty fines of up to HK$10,400 (around £1,000)
Domestic life in Hong Kong is very close to being pre-pandemic. In theory, there are laws stipulating social distancing and restrictions on gatherings of up to four people. However, in one of the most densely populated places in the world, these rules are often hard to put into practice. The most important domestic rule is that of mask wearing; everyone in Hong Kong wears masks in public and police will happily issue hefty fines of up to HK$10,400 (around £1,000) to those who don’t.
If Hong Kong’s domestic COVID regulations are generally relaxed, then, their travel restrictions are anything but. Travellers from every country -except New Zealand- face a 14-day or 21-day quarantine, punctuated by near-constant testing, followed by a week’s ‘self-monitoring’ period, as well as something of a comparative cultural anxiety over COVID.
Before the quarantine has even started, the process of entry into Hong Kong alone is Kafkaesque, whilst the laws surrounding it are strictly enforced. Travellers are required to carry a plethora of documentation and airport staff who allow people with missing documents to enter can (and have) been fired. If you manage to make it onto the plane, through the airport vetting processes and into your hotel room, you’ll be faced with even more challenges. Stepping outside of your room for anything save an absolute emergency will result in a fine of up to £2,400 and imprisonment of up to six months. There have even been horror stories of travellers being carted off to ominously-named ‘quarantine camps’ for doing trivial things like retrieving a misplaced bag from across the hall. Once you step into that room, you are in there for the long haul. End of discussion.
… these stringent measures have clearly been effective in suppressing COVID rate.
This being said, these stringent measures have clearly been effective in suppressing COVID rates. Since the beginning of the pandemic, in a city of 7.5 million people, there have only been 12,200 cases and 213 deaths. Even more impressive is that between the 17th of August and the 8th of October there were no new local cases at all.
Nonetheless, questions must be asked about the appropriateness of such draconian measures in 2021. The maximum range for the COVID incubation period is only 1 to 14 days, whilst that of the Delta variant is thought to be even shorter. Meanwhile, other countries, at a time when we know more than ever about the virus, are actually softening their travel restrictions in an attempt to open back up. Singapore, for example, recently announced that travellers from countries including the UK and France will soon not have to quarantine at all. Hong Kong’s brutal 21 day quarantine, therefore, seems more geared towards deterring people from entering than filtering out the virus. Of course, in a place where aviation services contributed 10.2% towards the GPD in 2018, this is bound to have a negative impact.
Indeed, according to the South China Morning Post, 3000 of Hong Kong’s 16,000 restaurants are on the verge of closing, whilst their revenues shrank from HK$120 billion in 2018 to HK$80 in 2020. Meanwhile, the Hong Kong Exhibition and Convention Industry association have reported that 45% of its businesses face closure. The number of US-based companies in Hong Kong has also fallen down to 1267, down 6.2% from 2018.
Shockingly, only 13% of people over 80 have been fully vaccinated.
Looking at these grim statistics, Hong Kong does not look set to open up anytime soon. Due to general mistrust towards the Hong Kong government and the Chinese SinoVac vaccine, the vaccine rollout in Hong Kong has been slow. Shockingly, only 13% of people over 80 have been fully vaccinated. With its priorities set on opening the border with a mainland China that currently views Hong Kong as a potential COVID risk, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam will not be able to ease restrictions for overseas travellers until this problem is resolved. Hong Kong’s hands seem tied. Recently, a government advisor even suggested that the mainland border was unlikely to be opened until after February -undoubtedly bleak prospects for those hoping to work or study there next term.
Editor: Ryan Gerrett