Officials on Monday announced plans to re-open public beaches, swimming pools and playgrounds before the Easter holiday, as they also revealed that restrictions on people returning from the UK will be lifted and mandatory quarantine arrangements will be relaxed for people from "low-risk" countries.
Secretary for Health Sophia Chan stressed that allowing the re-opening of pools and beaches, and easing capacity restrictions at cinemas and theme parks from Thursday will not be a "relaxation" – which medical experts have warned about despite a declining number of new Covid infections in recent days – but rather an "adjustment".
She said this is a critical period for Hong Kong.
"So we are doing minor adjustments on some of the activities that we have carefully assessed the risk," Chan said. "And this is also something that is related to people's mental health – so not only are we looking at physical health but we are very, very careful about the scheduled premises, so therefore we want to maintain the current scheduled premises opening, and not open any more at this point in time."
Officials also announced that restrictions barring entry into the territory for people in the UK will soon be lifted, considering the drop in the number of cases there and the roll-out of vaccines.
Chan said officials are in discussions with airlines to put on designated direct flights back to the SAR for residents who have been stranded in the UK since December 22 last year, when authorities shut down travel with the country as it was affected by a new strain of the coronavirus.
The health secretary said residents will still need to complete 21 days of mandatory quarantine at a designated hotel, with tests on the 7th, 12th and 19th days of their stay.
Chan said people arriving from "low-risk" countries, such as Australia, New Zealand and Singapore, will only have to undergo 14 days of mandatory quarantine at a designated hotel, followed by a week of self-monitoring. People from medium-risk countries who have been vaccinated will also only be quarantined for two weeks.
The three-week requirement will remain for people flying in from medium-risk countries who have not been inoculated.
Commerce and Economic Development Secretary Edward Yau said the government is in discussions with 16 countries about allowing people who have been vaccinated to travel.
Chan said the vaccine brand that people choose will not be a consideration in these discussions.
"Obviously we would have to look at what type of vaccine that is authorised in their country," Chan said. "Whatever vaccine people are vaccinated, they are authorised by the health authority of the country concerned."
The officials appealed for people to get vaccinated, saying that staff at venues where Covid testing is required every 14 days would no longer need to do so 14 days after they had received both doses of vaccine. This would also apply to teachers and construction workers.
Chan was unable to say when BioNTech jabs will be resumed, only that officials are in constant contact with the German manufacturer and its mainland-agent Fosun Pharma about resuming the vaccine programme as soon as possible.
"Hopefully within the coming week, we are able to have a final report, and so hopefully we can resume the vaccination shortly," she said.