Relaxation of Hong Kong Covid rules for visitors welcomed

Relaxation of Hong Kong Covid rules for visitors welcomed

But tourism and business sectors say '0+0' cannot come fast enough

A replica of a “walla walla” boat used for historical and cultural guided tours by the Harbourfront Commission at Causeway Bay in Hong Kong. (South China Morning Post photo)
A replica of a “walla walla” boat used for historical and cultural guided tours by the Harbourfront Commission at Causeway Bay in Hong Kong. (South China Morning Post photo)

The relaxation of rules to allow visitors to Hong Kong to enter venues that were earlier out of bounds is an important step for the struggling tourism sector, industry figures have said.

But international business chambers said more needed to be done to reboot the ailing industry.

They were speaking after the government announced that visitors and residents could enter some venues even if they were under the three-day medical surveillance period with an amber code on the government's "Leave Home Safe" risk-exposure app from next Thursday.

Venues that would open to inbound travellers included non-dining areas of theme parks, museums, cinemas and event venues, as well as hair salons and places of worship.

But travellers will still be banned from entering places where people take off their masks, such as restaurants, nightclubs, gyms and swimming pools.

The new policy will allow anyone with an amber code to enter premises that allow mask-on activities by scanning the venue's QR code using the "Leave Home Safe" risk-exposure app. Staff at these locations will no longer require people to show their vaccination record.

Allan Zeman, a nightlife and entertainment magnate, said the city was "inching step by step closer to '0+0'" - an end to all restrictions on travellers.

"For the individual tourists, I still think they want to come in and have '0+0' - have no restrictions. Hopefully, we're not far away from that," Zeman said.

Peter Yung Lok-hang, 44, a construction worker who plans to travel to Bangkok in Thailand next Wednesday, said he did not think the adjustment for amber code holders was attractive for Hong Kongers and tourists.

He predicted tourists would not visit the city just to visit cinemas or hair salons without being allowed to enter restaurants.

"The relaxation shouldn't be like 'squeezing toothpaste' with just minor changes every now and then. The government should ditch the amber code restrictions once and for all, especially when it claims Hong Kong has reopened," Yung said.

Alice Tsang Nga-wan, 41, who lives in Oregon in the United States, said she had put off a trip to the city to visit her 65-year-old mother, whom she has not seen in more than three years, and would hold out for a further relaxation of travel rules.

"The amber code is a joke. The partial relaxation for the amber code holders entering venues with masks on is also a joke. Who will come if they are not allowed to dine in?" the airport logistics worker said.

Johannes Hack, the president of the German Chamber of Commerce Hong Kong, welcomed the relaxation of measures, but said Covid-19 tests for arrivals remained a barrier for business travellers.

"For business to come back in large numbers, we need the simple message 'open for business, no ifs, no buts'," he said.

Inaki Amate, the chairman of the European Chamber of Commerce, made up of 13 lobbies, agreed that the city's rules deterred business travellers.

"It needs to simplify because, at the moment, by introducing new steps, they are introducing too much complexity," Amate said. "We need to convey that simplicity to the rest of the world, which is what we need to get back people coming back to Hong Kong."

But Fanny Yeung, the executive director of the Travel Industry Council, said the latest loosening was welcomed.

The government on Monday said group tours to Hong Kong would be allowed to enter designated attractions including restaurants, theme parks and museums while undergoing their three-day medical surveillance, but they must be accompanied by licensed guides.

Tour groups will be allowed meals in partitioned areas at designated restaurants that can meet special anti-epidemic requirements.

Yeung said the council had worked with the government on the new measures for group travellers which she hoped would start by Christmas, but no date had been fixed.

"I think this is a very important signal to give to the world that Hong Kong is gradually coming back," Yeung said.

But she added dining was "important" for individual travellers, who would still be barred from entering restaurants and bars under the new measures.

"Everyone in the tourism industry is hoping for further relaxation. We really want '0+0' to come very soon," Yeung said.

Pro-establishment lawmaker Edward Leung Hei said that he looked forward to an equal playing field for individual and group visitors.

"I think ideally the next step should allow them to eat at those designated restaurants where the group travellers will soon be allowed to go in," he said.

But he said if the epidemic situation was brought under control, visitors should be allowed to dine in any restaurant.

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