Travellers hoping to enter Hong Kong have been thrown for a loop after the city elevated 15 countries to its “high-risk” category for Covid-19, meaning significantly tougher entry requirements and longer quarantine periods for anyone arriving from those destinations.
Some of them coming in from already high-risk countries such as Britain had plans to fly to a third nation to reduce their hotel quarantine from three weeks to two, only for that destination to also now require a 21-day stay in designated hotels under the revised rules.
Others find themselves scrambling to return and book quarantine hotels before the changes take effect on Friday.
In all, 15 countries will see their status changed from medium to high risk: the United States, France, Malaysia, Thailand, the United Arab Emirates, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Greece, Iran, the Netherlands, Spain, Sri Lanka, Switzerland, Tanzania and Turkey.
The move, announced on Monday afternoon, comes amid a recent global surge in coronavirus cases sparked by the more infectious Delta variant.
The changes mean travellers from the 15 new high-risk nations must be fully vaccinated for at least 14 days before boarding a flight to Hong Kong, then undergo 21 days of quarantine in a designated hotel upon arrival, with four tests during isolation and another one on the 26th day after landing in the city.
Hong Kong permanent resident Richard Langford and his wife flew to Britain in June for urgent family matters, aware of the threat of getting stuck in the country, which had been classified as high risk by city officials.
They decided to head to Dubai for three weeks in the hope of reducing their quarantine period from three to two – the UAE was regarded as medium risk by Hong Kong and had been removed from Britain’s red list.
But when the couple arrived in Dubai on Monday morning, they were shocked to find out that the quarantine period for travellers from the UAE would be increased to 21 days from Friday under the revised Hong Kong rules.
“It’s a disaster for my wife and me,” said Langford, 62. “We want to come back but I don’t think I can face the 21 days’ quarantine. That is worse than being stuck in Britain, at least I could stay with my parents and look after them.”
He added: “We have come to Dubai for nothing.”
Another woman in her late 20s, who works for an American bank in Hong Kong, called 35 quarantine hotels to no avail on Monday afternoon, hoping to bring forward her fiancé’s travel plans before the new rules kicked in.
Her fiancé was supposed to fly from Zurich, Switzerland, to Hong Kong on August 29 and spend seven days in quarantine as he was fully vaccinated. The flight tickets and quarantine costs were already more than HK$30,000 (US$3,854).
“I was almost crying this afternoon in the office when I saw the announcement from the government and we called each other,” said the woman, who wanted to remain anonymous.
The couple changed the flight date to August 18 and the fiancé immediately went to do a PCR test in Zurich that cost CHF150 (US$164).
But they could not reschedule the quarantine stay under such a tight deadline and decided to give up on the trip.
“Over the past two weeks, we were so excited about the trip and we were planning for the days when he’s in Hong Kong,” she said. “We just want to be together. That’s simply what we want.”