Chief Executive John Lee on Friday announced the scrapping of mandatory hotel quarantine for new arrivals from next Monday, saying the government was able to make the decision in view of the stabilising pandemic situation.
Instead of the current "three plus four" arrangement – where travellers have to quarantine in a designated hotel for three days and spend another four days monitoring their health – arrivals will be given an amber health code for three days, barring them from places like restaurants and bars.
Arrivals will be told to take rapid tests for Covid for a week, and PCR tests when they arrive at the airport, as well as two, four and six days later.
The CE said the government will also drop a requirement for travellers to get a negative PCR test result before boarding their plane. Instead, they will be required to take a rapid test within 24 hours of boarding.
Arrivals will not have to wait for the result of their PCR test at the airport and can leave via whatever mode of transport they please.
Hong Kong residents will also be allowed to return to the SAR even if they're not fully vaccinated. However, they will still need to follow the current protocol if they wish to fulfil the current vaccine pass requirements.
Officials will also drop all quotas for the Return2HK and Come2HK schemes, to enable both Hong Kong and non-Hong Kong residents to come to the SAR easily.
All the changes take effect on September 26.
Lee said he's optimistic that the latest measures will be welcomed by those wanting to come to Hong Kong, and he did not rule out further easing travel curbs going forward.
"If there are positive developments, then of course we can have more room to go into further consideration as to how we will allow even more activities and create more convenience. I think it's important for people to know that we are aiming at one single direction of allowing people to come with more convenience, and they are allowed to go about their activities with the maximum possibilities," he said.
On resuming quarantine-free travel with the mainland, Lee said reopening the border to the country and the rest of the world is not mutually exclusive.
Health Secretary Lo Chung-mau said replacing the current hotel quarantine measure for overseas arrivals with the "zero plus three" policy will not increase the risk of infection in the SAR, but added that officials have to be careful.
"There are new viral variants which are coming up from different parts of the world, and we need close monitoring to make sure that these new variants will not come in, that is one of the reasons we are so conscientious about PCR tests for these inbound travellers, and to make sure that we will be doing sequencing for these PCR positive cases to check whether there are new variants coming in," Lo said.
The minister also said authorities do not have any data showing that further ending medical surveillance, or a "zero plus zero" arrangement, would not pose a greater risk to the community, adding that the infection rate among inbound travellers is higher than the figure locally.