Hong Kong will drop many of its remaining pandemic measures from Thursday, including the vaccine pass, PCR tests for international arrivals, outdoor gathering limit and quarantine for close contacts of infected people.
The end of the vaccine pass scheme means people no longer have to be jabbed against Covid in order to be allowed into various places, including restaurants, bars and cinemas, and the days of showing your jab records to staff to gain entry are over.
More than 12 people can get together outside, restaurant tables no longer have to be at least 1.5 metres apart, and the cap on the number of diners sitting together disappears.
Testing orders for individual buildings are scrapped entirely.
However, mask-wearing rules remain in place, infected people must still isolate themselves, and daily rapid Covid tests for children going to school, as well as care home staff and residents, are still a requirement at this stage.
While people arriving from overseas will no longer be made to take PCR tests, they will need to get either a PCR or a rapid test before their journey to Hong Kong.
Arrivals from anywhere in the world will also be advised to take rapid tests for their first six days in the territory.
At a press conference on Wednesday, Chief Executive John Lee said the government is "further improving" anti-pandemic measures because there is now a relatively high vaccination rate in the community and sufficient medication against Covid.
He added that over the past three years, medical personnel and the public in general have also come to understand how to cope with the pandemic.
Lee said the authorities will now focus on preventing serious illness and deaths due to Covid, adding that they aim to protect high-risk groups such as the elderly.
He denied the changes to Covid restrictions are sudden or rapid, saying the authorities have been making preparations for society to go back to normal.
"There will always come a day when we have to make big decision about normalisation. That is exactly what we are doing now, because the time is appropriate for us to do it, having prepared for six months to do all this. In fact, I think society as a whole is preparing because I have been hearing a lot of voices saying this is the thing to be done," he said.
Health Secretary Lo Chung-mau, meanwhile, said the authorities will only consider dropping the mask mandate when the spring comes.
"The benefit of masking, especially at this point when we are facing a serious winter surge, is tremendous. We need to continue with the mask mandate in order to protect our citizens from the risks of not just Covid but also influenza and other respiratory tract infections," he said.
Lo said the authorities have procured more paracetamol and other painkillers and will stock a sufficient level of such medication, after pharmacies reported running low on supplies in recent days.
With the mainland border expected to fully reopen soon, the health chief said that locals will get priority in receiving public healthcare services and medicine, while non-residents will be charged more than HK$6,000 if they are prescribed oral Covid medication in public hospitals.
He added that the government is not giving free Covid jabs to non-residents if they are only staying in Hong Kong for a short period of time, but said such people could go to private hospitals to get vaccinated.
Siddharth Sridhar from the University of Hong Kong's Department of Microbiology said he welcomes the latest relaxation of Covid measures.
"I think, generally speaking, it's time for us to move on," he told RTHK, adding that while it's unlikely the coronavirus will go away, people now have strong-enough protections against it.
Last updated: 2022-12-28 HKT 22:15