HONG KONG (Reuters) -Hong Kong hopes to introduce “reverse quarantine” for people going to mainland China as the financial hub seeks to open up to the neigbouring technology city of Shenzhen after months of restrictions, the city leader said on Thursday.
Chief Executive John Lee said mainland Chinese officials supported the idea of Hong Kong residents spending time in quarantine in the city before travelling to the mainland as a way to help ensure more regular travel.
The proposal for what Lee called “reverse quarantine” comes as cases of COVID-19 are again increasing in Hong Kong, just as it looks forward to a big banking conference and the international Rugby Sevens, both in November, slated to show that it can get back to business as usual.
The goal was “to ensure that we will have a system to allow a regular flow of people from Hong Kong into Shenzhen”, Lee told a media briefing.
Hong Kong has closed its border with the mainland and the rest of the world for more than 2-1/2 years, in line with China’s “zero-COVID” policy of stamping out outbreaks as they arise with tough restrictions.
The city of 7.3 million people is highly reliant on international business and travel, and the restrictions have damaged its economy and led to the exodus of tens of thousands of residents.
The “reverse quarantine” scheme will require residents to stay in isolation in Hong Kong before entering neighbouring Shenzhen without having to do China’s required 7-day hotel quarantine and three days subsequent days at home.
Authorities were working out the details, Lee said.
This month, the city cut COVID quarantine for all arrivals to three days in a hotel, from seven.
Lee said the city was trying to “allow maximum connectivity with the world” but a growing number of coronavirus cases – now nearly 10,000 a day – was putting pressure on hospitals.
Masks are mandated in most places in Hong Kong and gatherings of more than four people are prohibited. Proof of vaccination is needed to get into most venues and school children have to take tests daily.
Hong Kong has reported more than 1.5 million COVID infections and 9,690 deaths since the pandemic began.
(Reporting by Marius Zaharia, Jessie Pang and Farah Master; Editing by Christian Schmollinger)