Inbound travellers to Hong Kong will only need to undergo polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests on the first and third day after arrival from next Monday, as the city further relaxes Covid-19 screening rules for people entering the city.
The move was announced on Thursday as the city recorded 8,052 new Covid-19 infections, the highest since September 18, including 533 imported cases, as well as 12 more deaths.
Undersecretary for Health Libby Lee Ha-yun said the decision to drop PCR tests on Day 4 and Day 6, the fifth and seventh day after arrival, was made after balancing the need for medical surveillance and the effect on travellers.
She said statistics showed, between September 26 and November 6, 82 per cent of infected arrivals were detected through the first two PCR tests, and only 0.4 and 0.1 per cent of infections were found in later tests.
Respiratory expert Dr Leung Chi-chiu said the daily caseload was likely to continue to rise and he expected new subvariants such as BQ.1.1 and XBB would lead to further outbreaks.
“But [the figure] is likely to peak [in a degree] similar to the last BA.5 wave, judging from experience in Singapore or the US,” he said.
“As we do not have actual proportions of each variant among local cases, it may be difficult to give a reliable short-term forecast. The most important is to look at the burden on our healthcare system.”
Health officials also announced that the BioNTech bivalent vaccine targeting the Omicron subvariant would arrive in the city at the end of this month at the soonest.
Lee said the new booster would not be compulsory, but recommended those aged over 50 and people taking part in high-risk activities should receive it as a fourth dose.
Unvaccinated residents with jab exemption certificates from next Tuesday will be issued a transitional vaccine pass if they decide to start the vaccination course, allowing them to enter premises with mandatory vaccine pass checks.
The transitional vaccine pass, which will remain valid until the holder is eligible for the next dose, can be obtained when they get jabbed at community vaccination centres.
Lee said the arrangement could cater to those who were earlier found to be medically unfit for Covid-19 shots but had recovered and wanted to get vaccinated.
As many as 50,000 residents could benefit from the arrangement, as about 19,000 exemption certificates are still in effect. A total of 31,000 expired in the past month.
Two doses of Covid-19 vaccines are required to enter premises with mandatory vaccine pass checks at present, including restaurants and bars. Starting from November 30, people aged 12 or above need to be triple-vaccinated to do so.
Hong Kong’s total Covid-19 tally now Hong Kong’s total Covid-19 tally now stands at 2,012,877 cases and 10,569 fatalities.
The news came as a fresh melioidosis case was detected which involved a 61 year-old male living in Sham Shui Po.
The man, who was admitted to hospital almost two weeks ago after being found to have, was said to be now in stable condition.
Among 37 melioidosis cases found in the city so far this year, 21 of them were from Sham Shui Po and were diagnosed in or after August.
The Centre for Health Protection collected 200 environmental samples from reservoirs in Sham Shui Po between November 3 and 9.
A total of 87 soil samples obtained in the area of Shek Kip Mei and Butterfly Valley reservoirs and six swabs from the ventilator at Shek Kip Mei reservoir tested positive for the bacteria.
Health authorities said, as all water samples tested negative, they could not find out how the patients had become infected.
The Water Supplies Department has increased the chlorine level in water across the city and will install filters on ventilators at all reservoirs inside two months.