Anyone arriving in Hong Kong from countries other than China must from November 13 undergo the mandatory 14-day quarantine in a hotel to reduce the risk of spreading Covid-19 at home.
The city recorded nine new Covid-19 cases on Tuesday, including two more linked to a growing cluster from a staycation holiday in Mui Wo’s Silvermine Bay and a local untraceable infection of an office worker.
The new quarantine arrangement was announced on Tuesday hours after the city leader revealed that members of the public who needed to prove their health status could sign up for coronavirus screening at a cost of HK$240 (US$31) at government testing centres, to be launched in the middle of the month.
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Free Covid-19 testing would also be offered from next Monday for teachers and staff in public schools and kindergartens.
A government statement said that people who had been to places other than mainland China, Macau and Taiwan within 14 days before coming to Hong Kong would need to provide proof of a room reservation in a hotel in the city for not fewer than two weeks. Previously, arrivals from low-risk countries could undergo the two-week quarantine period at home.
The new arrangement would be in place until further notice. But those who arrived in the city for transit or who were already exempted from quarantine would not be affected.
“We wanted to tighten the quarantine measures due to the worsening Covid-19 situation globally. In the past, there were a few cases who infected other family members while they were quarantining at home,” said Dr Chuang Shuk-kwan, head of the communicable disease branch of the Centre for Health Protection.
Non-residents are already barred from entering Hong Kong, although some exemptions apply. Passengers arriving from mainland China, Macau and Taiwan are allowed to quarantine at home depending on their travel history.
Hong Kong plans to remove any quarantine requirement for Hongkongers returning from the mainland.
Turkey, meanwhile, would be the latest to be added to the city’s list of countries of high Covid-19 risk, starting from November 13.
Fourteen countries are currently on the list. People arriving from those nations need to present a negative Covid-19 test result before coming to the city, and must quarantine in a hotel.
The latest measures received a qualified endorsement from the government’s coronavirus adviser, Chinese University’s Professor David Hui Shu-cheong, who, however, believed officials should add other virus hotspots such as Spain and Italy to the high-risk list, both of which are suffering a second wave of infections.
The respiratory medicine expert also wants the government to plug the remaining holes in the city’s border defences by revoking quarantine exemptions granted to key consular personnel from those 14 countries, after a diplomat from India was infected last month.
“Those high-ranking staff who can self-isolate in a single room in their consulates can do so. Others should do it in a hotel if they come from places with an overwhelming number of cases. They should have done it a long time ago.”
But Hui believed the new arrangement of letting travellers from outside China quarantine at any hotel in the city would not risk cross-infections with other guests, as they would usually be separated on different floors, and self-isolaters were not allowed to leave their room.
Hong Kong recorded six imported infections on Tuesday, with three from Britain and one each from Indonesia, the Philippines, and the United States.
Of the three local cases, two were linked to the Mui Wo staycation cluster.
So far, five people in the group have been confirmed as infected, while two tested preliminary positive.
The sole untraceable case involved a 36-year-old man who works as a clerk in Central with around 200 people. The Centre for Health Protection said it would distribute specimen bottles at his workplace.
During his incubation period, the patient played soccer with about 20 people in Wong Chuk Hang and basketball at the clubhouse of a friend’s home in Ap Lei Chau. The man also had drinks at Bar Deluxe in Central with a friend.
During his infectious period, he played cards at The Centre building in Central with about 10 friends, who will be sent to quarantine at a government facility.
There have now been 5,345 coronavirus infections recorded in Hong Kong and 105 related deaths.
“Since last week, the pandemic situation is similar – not getting worse, but not improving enough to give us the confidence to further relax measures,” she told a weekly media briefing on Tuesday.
The HK$240 test will be available from mid-November. To better prepare for a potential fourth wave of infections, Lam said four private laboratories had been tendered for three months to run Covid-19 testing from then.
They are Prenetics, KingMed Diagnostics, Hong Kong Molecular Pathology Diagnostic Centre and BGI. All four were involved previously in the city’s mass screening or testing programmes for specific high-risk groups.
As previously revealed, those centres would be located in Quarry Bay, Yau Ma Tei, Sha Tin and Yuen Long community centres and open seven days a week.
Residents deemed high-risk can be screened for free, while those requiring a negative test result to travel will have to pay.
The sampling there would be done through combined nasal and throat swabs, a method which was used during the mass community testing programme held in September. People going there could make an online reservation or register on-site.
“The cost has been lowered to HK$240 per test, which includes a test result proof given to residents for travel or other purposes,” she said.
Lam attributed the reduced rate to several factors, including a much increased testing capacity to nearly 100,000 per day, and government support to provide venues for those facilities. People going to the centres could also skip seeing a doctor beforehand, a step which could make the test much more expensive.
Some 46 outpatient clinics, from where residents can take sample bottles without charge, will extend services to either Saturdays or both weekend days.
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