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Hong Kong scraps vaccine pass, COVID-19 tests for travelers

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HONG KONG (AP) — Hong Kong will scrap some of its COVID-19 restrictions, including PCR tests for inbound travelers and vaccination requirements to enter certain venues, the city’s leader said Wednesday.

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For most of the pandemic, Hong Kong has aligned itself with China’s “zero-COVID” strategy, requiring stringent COVID-19 tests and isolation for close contacts of infected cases as well as for incoming travelers.

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But the mainland has relaxed measures in recent weeks, and Hong Kong is preparing for the January reopening of its border with China, which had previously imposed harsh restrictions and snap lockdowns to stamp out the virus.

“Our society as a whole has built an extensive and high-level barrier of immunity (to COVID-19),” said Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee at a news conference. Over 80% of the city has at least three doses of COVID-19 vaccine.

Close contacts of those who test positive for COVID-19 will also no longer need to isolate in Hong Kong, he said, and there will no longer be a limit on the number of diners per table at restaurants. The relaxed measures will take effect from Thursday.

Masks, however, will still need to be worn in public unless residents are exercising, as doing away with masks may lead to a surge in respiratory diseases like influenza just as Hong Kong faces a seasonal surge of flu cases, said Secretary of Health Lo Chung-mau at the news conference.

In September, Hong Kong did away with quarantine requirements for arriving travelers as it sought to boost tourism after over two years of entry restrictions.

Starting Jan. 8, China will no longer require inbound travelers to quarantine, authorities said earlier this week.

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