Quarantine-free trips to Hong Kong will finally become a reality again next week, some two years after a ‘travel bubble’ was first proposed between Singapore and the SAR, with the announcement that fully vaccinated visitors and returning residents will no longer need to complete a mandatory hotel room quarantine period from 26th September 2022.
This long-awaited policy change represents the most significant relaxation yet in the city state, which has maintained some of the world’s most severe COVID-19 travel restrictions for more than two years, since the onset of the pandemic.
Unfortunately for would-be leisure visitors, a strict testing regime and the inability to enter most entertainment venues likes pubs, bars and restaurants for a 3-day period after arrival will be a sufficient deterrent from planning a trip, especially with minimal restrictions now enforced in neighbouring countries.
Nonetheless the news is great for Hong Kong residents when returning home, or for those visiting family in the city-state, and also for some business travellers too.
Current arrival quarantine
Since 12th August 2022, inbound travellers to Hong Kong from outside China (e.g. from Singapore) have been subjected to:
- 3 nights of compulsory hotel quarantine at a designated quarantine hotel (DQH), and
- an additional 4 nights of medical surveillance.
This is the so-called “3+4 arrangement”, and also involves a raft of COVID-19 antigen and PCR testing, with up to 16 swabs required for a longer trip, including a pre-departure PCR test taken within 48 hours of your flight to Hong Kong.
Individuals have also been barred from leaving Hong Kong for any reason during the initial 3-night hotel quarantine window, but are then free to leave during the 4-night surveillance period and thereafter.
However, if still in Hong Kong during the 4 night surveillance window, and for a further 3 days thereafter, daily ART tests are required, with additional PCR tests on Day 4, Day 6 and Day 9.
Hong Kong has been coming under increasing pressure to relax entry requirements ahead of a key financial summit in November, after it was revealed that delegates may be exempt from quarantine, unlike general travellers, and this is now happening.
Hotel quarantine removed from 26th September
For arrivals in Hong Kong from 26th September 2022 at 6am, the 3-night hotel quarantine period will be axed, and instead fully vaccinated individuals will only follow a testing regime when travelling, on-arrival, and after arrival in the SAR.
This will allow you to fly to Hong Kong as a fully vaccinated traveller and be immediately free to proceed straight to your self-sourced accommodation (e.g. any hotel), or to your own home if you are a resident.
Here’s how the process will look, compared to the current requirements.
🇭🇰 Hong Kong entry requirements
(fully vaccinated travellers)
|Till 26 September 2022
|From 26 September 2022
|Pre-departure test||Negative PCR test within 48h
||Negative ART test within 24h|
|Test on arrival
|Hotel quarantine (DQH)||3 days||None|
|Tests in hotel quarantine||
|Free to leave HK||Day 3 onwards||Immediately|
|+ 4 days||3 days|
|Tests under medical surveillance^||
|Self-monitoring||+ 3 days||+ 4 days|
|Tests under self-monitoring^||
* Visa-free entry for Singapore citizens for up to 90 days, but some nationalities require a visa
** Hong Kong residents who are not fully vaccinated will also be able to enter from 26th September
^ Only if you are still in Hong Kong on the specified day
ART tests are self-administered and should be completed before leaving your accommodation each day, but you must have the PCR tests can be conducted at community screening centres, mobile specimen collection stations or at recognised testing firms.
Yes you read it right – despite the removal of quarantine up to 12 COVID-19 swabs will still be required for those taking longer trips to Hong Kong.
That is simply moronic compared to a near-global shift to “living with COVID”, and hopefully this is just the first iteration of a process that will become significantly simplified in the near future!
Airport arrival process
Currently when you arrive at Hong Kong International Airport your on-arrival COVID-19 sample will be tested under both rapid antigen and PCR methods.
Once your have left the baggage reclaim hall, your ART result can then be confirmed by staff. If result is negative, you can proceed to the arrivals hall and take closed-loop transport to your DQH, while awaiting the result of your on-arrival PCR test.
Under the new system from 26th September, travellers will not have their swab ART tested (it’s PCR only), and will not be required to await the results of the test, instead being free to travel to their home or booked hotel immediately, by any means of transport.
Once you receive a negative test result, you will be given an ‘Amber Code’ on your LeaveHomeSafe mobile app, and that’s where the main drawback for tourists really begins…
Amber Code requirements are onerous
As you can see from the table above, unfortunately the removal of hotel quarantine does not include a removal of the medical surveillance (Amber Code) period for travellers who test negative on arrival.
That means you will be unable to enter most entertainment venues likes pubs, bars and restaurants for a full 3-day period after arriving in Hong Kong – hardly ideal for holidaymakers.
These venues include:
- catering premises including restaurants, bars or pubs (except for takeaway orders)
- amusement game centres
- fitness centres
- places of amusement
- places of public entertainment
- party rooms
- beauty parlours
- club houses
- clubs or nightclubs
- karaoke establishments
- mahjong-tin kau premises
- massage establishments
- sports premises
- swimming pools
- cruise ships
- event premises
- barber shops or hair salons
- religious premises
- designated healthcare premises
However, during the 3-day medical surveillance period you may:
- take public transport and enter shopping malls, department stores and supermarkets
- collect takeaway orders from restaurants or food outlets
- go to work or attend school (probably not top of your agenda as a tourist!)
- participate in B2B conventions and exhibitions, subject to specified requirements
These restrictions during your first 3 days in Hong Kong effectively make tourist visits to Hong Kong completely pointless for most of our readers, while this restriction remains in place.
Personally, we never visited Hong Kong for more than three or four days on each trip prior to COVID-19, and we expect most of our Singapore-based readers didn’t either.
As we already mentioned, this makes the latest relaxation of quarantine fundamentally a benefit for local residents or those with family in Hong Kong, not for the casual tourist.
Singapore – Hong Kong flights
If you are in the market for a Hong Kong trip given this latest announcement, there are currently 26 weekly passenger flights between Singapore and Hong Kong, a far cry from the 137 weekly services operating before COVID-19 on the city pair pre-pandemic.
October 2022 flights are shown in the following table.
Singapore – Hong Kong flights
|Airline / Flight Number||Aircraft||Days
|TR980/981||787-9||Mon, Thu, Fri, Sun
Additionally, Singapore Airlines is operating six weekly flights on this route using Airbus A350 Medium Haul aircraft (remember SQ1/2?), but carrying only cargo. These could presumably be upgraded to passenger status relatively easily in the months ahead.
The airline is planning to ditch its daily SQ882/883 flights from November 2022, though we’d expect additional services to now be added with two-way border reopening between these key regional business centres.
As SIA increases its Hong Kong presence, there’s also the opportunity for the carrier to reinstate its Singapore – Hong Kong – San Francisco route, and potentially reopen its dedicated SilverKris lounge at the airport.
The airline’s latest lounge reopening in Bangkok initially covered only three daily departures, so there’s definitely scope for a Hong Kong reopening this year in our view, as flight volumes inevitably increase.
Cathay Pacific’s ramp-up may be limited initially
You would expect Hong Kong’s home airline Cathay Pacific to be the major beneficiary of border relaxation, and in some ways it will be, but ironically the airline is not even nearly ready to ramp-up operations in any significant way this year.
In an update to Bloomberg last week, Cathay’s Chief Customer and Commercial Officer Ronald Lam pointed to several reasons for a slow, steady increase in operations at the carrier, from the current 25% of pre-COVID capacity to just 33% by the end of 2022.
Issues include undertaking staff training (Cathay has lost 30% of its pilots alone in the last couple of years), plus aircraft reactivation timescales and other operational complexities.
Singapore Airlines, on the other hand, reached 70% of pre-COVID capacity for its mainline operations in August 2022 and is likely to be able to increase its Hong Kong flights more quickly.
Middle East carriers like Emirates and Qatar Airways are also likely to be able to increase their Hong Kong schedules at relatively short notice, while it could take many months for Cathay Pacific to realistically return to its former frequencies on Europe flights, for example.
SIA operated 49 passenger flights per week to and from Hong Kong before the pandemic, based on January 2020 schedules, while Cathay Pacific flew 61 flights per week, including seven via Bangkok.
Ultimately though, Cathay’s eventual increase in flights across its network will be welcome news to our readers, bringing more redemptions back using the Asia Miles programme, and potentially meaning we could see the airline’s dedicated lounge at Changi Airport Terminal 4 back in business.
Cathay moved back to T4 on the facility’s reopening day – 13th September 2022 – but lounge-eligible passengers are currently invited to the third-party Blossom Lounge, while flight schedules remain limited.
Hong Kong has had some of the strictest border measures in the world during the COVID-19 pandemic, so it’s great to see the removal of quarantine for both visitors and returning residents.
However, this relaxation will mostly benefit Hong Kong residents returning to the city, who no longer need to make bookings at DQH hotels and can instead go straight home after taking an on-arrival PCR test.
Tourists and visitors won’t be too interested in a visit while so much testing is still in place, but perhaps most importantly of all because they won’t be able to go to bars or restaurants for the first three days of their trip (and let’s face it, Hong Kong trips for Singapore residents were typically only two to three days anyway pre-COVID!).
Another issue for tourists to consider is the risk of testing positive at the on-arrival PCR test, which is more sensitive than an ART swab and may return a positive result from a recently recovered infection.
Will you be booking a Hong Kong trip under this latest quarantine-free entry process? Let us know in the comments section below.
(Cover Photo: Shutterstock)