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Hong Kong scraps most COVID rules, though masks still mandated

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HONG KONG — Hong Kong will cancel its stringent COVID-19 rules from Thursday, city leader John Lee said, meaning that arrivals will no longer need to do mandatory PCR tests while the city’s vaccine pass would also be scrapped.

All measures would be canceled on Thursday, apart from the wearing of masks which still remains compulsory, Lee told a media briefing on Wednesday.

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“The city has reached a relatively high vaccination rate which builds an anti-epidemic barrier,” Lee said.

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“Hong Kong has a sufficient amount of medicine to fight COVID, and healthcare workers have gained rich experience in facing the pandemic,” he added.

The announcement comes after Lee said last week that Hong Kong would reopen its borders with mainland China by mid-January.

The earliest date for that would be January 10 with priority for travel to the city given to those with business and family needs, the South China Morning Post said, citing unidentified sources. Hong Kong’s vaccine pass requirement, which was imposed in February and was a must for people to access most venues in Hong Kong, is also being done away with from Thursday. Social distancing rules such as a cap on gatherings of more than 12 people in public will also be scrapped from Thursday.

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The city has for nearly three years largely followed China’s lead in tackling the novel coronavirus, with both places being the last strongholds in adopting a zero-COVID policy.

The removal of the curbs are likely to result in an increase of travelers to the former British colony who have previously shunned it due to strict restrictions.

In an abrupt change of policy, China this month began dismantling the world’s strictest COVID regime of lockdowns and extensive testing. The country will stop requiring inbound travelers to go into quarantine from Jan. 8, authorities said this week.

Restrictions on travel between Hong Kong and the mainland were imposed in early 2020. The reopening was postponed several times due to outbreaks in Hong Kong or the mainland.

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International passengers arriving in Hong Kong since mid-month are no longer subject to COVID-related movement controls or barred from certain venues, the government announced in December.

Business groups, diplomats and many residents had slammed Hong Kong’s COVID-19 rules, saying they threatened its competitiveness and standing as an international financial center.

The rules have weighed on Hong Kong’s economy since early 2020, speeding up an exodus of businesses, expatriates and local families that have left amid a drive by Beijing to more closely control the former British colony. (Additional reporting by Jessie Pang and Angel Woo; Editing by Tom Hogue, Lincoln Feast and Muralikumar Anantharaman)

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