The Hong Kong government has taken its biggest step yet in easing travel restrictions, announcing the end of mandatory hotel quarantine on arrival.
The three-day quarantine rule—which applied to all arriving passengers, regardless of vaccination status or the result of a COVID-19 test—has severely hampered Cathay Pacific’s ability to rebuild its global network and kept many international airlines from restarting service to Hong Kong (HKG).
Following the government announcement, Cathay said it would add more than 200 return trips to its October schedule for regional and long-haul destinations. Cathay has been one of the slowest of the major Asia-Pacific airlines to rebuild capacity. Unlike others in the region, it has no domestic network to rely on.
Under new rules that went into effect Sept. 26, the three-day hotel quarantine period will be replaced by three days of medical self-assessment. Arriving travelers will not be able to visit venues such as restaurants and bars during this time.
While pre-departure PCR tests have also been scrapped, a rapid antigen test will still be required. Some other rules also remain, including the need for multiple post-arrival tests.
The removal of the quarantine requirement will provide a major boost to HKG international travel demand. Hong Kong was one of just a handful of major Asia-Pacific markets that still had restrictive entry requirements in place. Japan is also on this list, although it has announced it will drop most entry rules from Oct. 11.
Cathay Pacific said the government’s latest moves will “help boost sentiment for travel.” This will in turn facilitate “the gradual resumption of travel activities and strengthening of network connectivity to, from and through the Hong Kong aviation hub.”
Previous steps by the government have included easing strict quarantine requirements for aircrew returning to Hong Kong. This rule caused major operational headaches for Cathay, in conjunction with passenger arrival restrictions that constrained demand.
Data from CAPA and OAG shows that HKG’s international capacity was at 14% of 2019 levels for the week of Sept. 19. This compares to the Asia-Pacific average of 44% for international capacity recovery.
While IATA welcomed the Hong Kong moves, it also urged the government to eliminate the remaining restrictions.
Removing hotel quarantine is “a step forward that will help with the recovery of the travel and tourism sector,” Xie Xingquan, IATA’s regional VP for North Asia, said. “The next step is to remove all COVID-19 measures as we have seen elsewhere in Asia. That includes the three days medical surveillance, the PCR test on arrival, as well as measures that apply to unvaccinated travelers.”
IATA noted that the entire aviation system needs to be ready for a surge in travel. “Having the required manpower is key to avoiding the problems seen in European and US airports,” Xie said.