No need to completely close border yet: Sophia Chan

The Secretary for Food and Health, Sophia Chan, said on Tuesday that the government may require inbound travellers to stay longer at quarantine camps upon arrival to prevent the spread of the Omicron variant, but said there’s no need to close the border completely at the moment.

Chan made the remarks just hours after the government announced that “the most stringent quarantine requirements” will be imposed on Hongkongers arriving from more countries to curb the new Covid-19 variant.

Non-Hong Kong residents from Angola, Ethiopia, Nigeria and Zambia were banned from entering from midnight, and SAR residents returning from these countries will have to spend seven days at the Penny’s Bay quarantine centre before moving to a quarantine hotel for another two weeks of isolation.

The same requirements have already been imposed on eight other African countries.

The government said that “as a preventative measure”, fully vaccinated Hong Kong residents returning from Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Israel and Italy will also have to observe stricter quarantine rules from midnight December 2.

Non-Hong Kong residents who have stayed in these places within 21 days are not allowed to enter, and residents can only board a flight for Hong Kong if they have been fully vaccinated and hold a recognised vaccination record, and will have to spend 21 days at a quarantine hotel.

Speaking on an RTHK programme, the health chief said the government has been discussing with experts and believes the current arrangements are appropriate.

“We’ve been paying attention to the World Health Organisation’s reports. Scientists around the world are not quite clear how the [variant] will impact the pandemic. The scientific data will be released later. At present, when things are not clear, we are inclined to be stricter, but there’s no need to close everything,” she said.

She said the length of time a traveller has to stay at Penny’s Bay may be adjusted to strike a balance between the centre’s capacity and the risks.

Chan added that the government will consider whether to list more regions as high risk, taking into account different facts such as their vaccination rate, testing requirements and whether there are any local cases.