Thousands of people put into quarantine are to be released early, as part of an overhaul of the way authorities handle Covid infections involving mutant strains, while quarantine periods in general will be cut for those who are fully vaccinated.
Officials said on Friday they will no longer isolate whole blocks of residents where mutant strains of coronavirus are found.
Those already sent into quarantine for 21 days because mutant strains were found in their buildings can go home if they test negative for the virus. However, they will have to take repeated Covid tests after they get home.
A cluster of eight cases involving the South African mutant strain of coronavirus emerged in Hong Kong recently. Authorities said the source of the infections was a man who flew in from Dubai in March.
Authorities put under quarantine thousands of residents who live in buildings where the infections were found, including in Tung Chung, Tsuen Wan, Pok Fu Lam and Kornhill.
But the Controller of the Centre for Health Protection, Ronald Lam, said officials had decided to release the residents early after reviewing the latest situation.
He noted that people who live in a Jordan building where the man from Dubai stayed would soon complete their 21-day quarantine and none of them has been found to have the virus.
Lam said he did not think authorities had overreacted by sending thousands of residents into quarantine over subsequent cases, being as officials could not find the source of the infections at first.
“We had to adopt the most prudent approach and most stringent measures,” he said.
“This is not only for the health of the residents, but also to prevent further transmission within the community. So this is definitely not an overreaction but a very cautious approach to protect the health of Hong Kong.”
Health officials also announced that fully vaccinated close contacts of coronavirus patients will spend less time at quarantine centres in future.
Close contacts of patients with a mutant strain of coronavirus can leave quarantine after 14 days if they are vaccinated – down from the current 21 days. But they will still be subject to mandatory tests after their release.
Quarantine periods will also be shortened for vaccinated close contacts of patients with non-mutant strains, from 14 days to 7.
Meanwhile, quarantine rules for some inbound travellers will also be relaxed if they are fully vaccinated.
Those coming from low-risk countries, such as Australia, New Zealand and Singapore, will be required to undergo quarantine at a hotel for seven days, instead of 14, but they must have one more Covid test afterwards.
The quarantine period for travellers from places considered medium-risk will be reduced from 21 to 14 days.
But the quarantine rules for those who fly in from high-risk countries will remain unchanged.