Coronavirus: quarantine-free travel between Hong Kong and Macau could resume this month, but plan limits access to hotel facilities in casino city

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Vaccinated Hong Kong residents will be allowed to visit Macau without undergoing mandatory quarantine as early as this month under a plan that limits visitor access to hotel facilities and mask-free activities such as visiting bars, the Post has learned.

But shortly after the plan was revealed on Thursday, the Macau government ramped up its requirements. It raised the threshold for resumption of travel, with Hong Kong required to reach 14 days without either local coronavirus infections or community ones linked to imported cases. Previously, the requirement was for no untraceable cases for 28 days.

A Hong Kong source with direct knowledge of discussions earlier on Thursday said both governments were finalising arrangements to reopen the border and allow quarantine-free travel, subject to conditions such as compulsory Covid-19 vaccination, accommodation restrictions and initial passenger quotas.

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“Both sides are eager to resume travel, and at this moment, it seems reopening the border with Macau will come sooner than with Guangdong province where more factors have to be taken into consideration,” the government insider said. “Of course, the prerequisite is that we must have a stable pandemic situation.”

In a letter to hotels in the casino city seen by the Post, the Macau Government Tourism Office said the plan was for Hong Kong arrivals to carry a specific health code and operators could welcome such guests provided they placed them on designated floors.

But the visitors would be banned from hotel swimming pools and other facilities involving water-based activities, the office added.

Confirming the plan details, Macau’s health bureau also said travellers would have to take multiple Covid-19 tests during their stay. They would not be allowed to join any mask-free activities such as visiting bars and karaoke lounges.

As of Wednesday, 51 hotels, offering 2,700 rooms in total, showed an interest in receiving guests from Hong Kong, the bureau added.

“We have not come up with a specific date on when to reopen the border yet,” said Dr Tai Wa-hou, Macau’s Covid-19 vaccination coordinator.

“A specific blue code will be assigned to travellers, which restricts them from specific activities. They will be allowed to go to restaurants, but we are still deciding whether travellers can be permitted to go to casinos.”

Tai said authorities were still monitoring the virus situation in Hong Kong closely, and had updated their criteria for resuming border travel.

“Our criteria are very clear: we will allow travel when there are no untraceable local cases in the city, and at the same time when imported-related cases or [local] traceable cases are clear in Hong Kong for 14 days, plus if there are no large community outbreaks afterwards,” he said.

“Imported cases and imported-related cases are two different concepts. The latter refers to infections from an imported case to a local person,” Tai said, adding that two such cases were recorded in Hong Kong in late June.

The new criteria is a change from last month when Macau authorities said Hong Kong visitors could be exempted from quarantine if the city achieved 28 straight days of zero local infections, with the plan to be introduced in phases and with quotas.

Cross-border travel high on agenda as Hong Kong eases quarantine rules

Hong Kong on Thursday confirmed four imported cases, but a preliminary-positive local infection of untraceable origin involving a cleaner at a quarantine hotel has sparked concerns.

The four cases – two arrivals from Britain and one each from Indonesia and Russia – took the city’s confirmed tally to 11,927 infections, with 211 deaths.

Officials started closing Hong Kong-Macau border points in February last year following the emergence of Covid-19 cases in both cities the previous month.

Currently, travellers in Macau who have stayed in Hong Kong within 14 days of their arrival have to go to designated places for two weeks of medical observation.

Likewise, visitors from Macau to Hong Kong must quarantine for the same amount of time if they are unvaccinated. Inoculated arrivals enjoy a shorter seven-day period, and then have to self-monitor for the next seven days.

Tourism sector lawmaker Yiu Si-wing said Macau kept moving the target but Hong Kong had met a reasonable near-zero level of cases. “Macau has been flip-flopping over the requirements it wants to set on reopening its borders to Hong Kong,” Yiu said.

While no concrete date had been set by either side yet, Yiu was optimistic travel resumption talks would take shape after Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor returned from the Communist Party’s centenary celebrations in Beijing.

Record 60,000 people receive Covid-19 jabs in single day in Hong Kong

Alan Chan Chung-yee, who runs cross-border transport services, said he did not foresee major difficulties with resuming operations, but expected it would take a few days to conduct checks on his vehicles after the reopening.

Chan said almost all of his more than 100 drivers covering the Hong Kong-Macau route were fully vaccinated, with some opting out for health reasons.

Additional reporting by Kathleen Magramo

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