(Bloomberg) -- Hong Kong could scrap its outdoor mask mandate and shorten the isolation period for people who test positive for Covid as part of a suite of major relaxations in the city’s virus rules being considered by the government, local media reported.
As well as potentially scrapping the mask rule, the government is considering using rapid-antigen tests to replace the two PCR tests currently required for inbound travelers, and the Hospital Authority may explore relaxing discharge criteria for patients, pro-China newspaper Wen Wei Po reported Thursday, citing people it didn’t identify. The newspaper didn’t give a timeline for when any changes would be announced.
Separately, Cable TV and the South China Morning Post reported that Hong Kong will reduce the isolation period for Covid patients and close contacts to five days, from seven, citing people they didn’t identify. Both said the outdoor mask mandate would remain for now but did not refute that relaxing it was under consideration.
The Post said the change to the isolation requirement will be announced at a briefing by health officials on Thursday. Representatives from the Health Department and the Hong Kong government didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment by Bloomberg News.
The moves — which coincide with a rise in the daily Covid tally to the highest since the city’s deadly wave in March — would be the biggest relaxation to virus rules since Hong Kong scrapped hotel quarantine for inbound travelers in September in an effort to revive its standing as a global financial center. If enacted, the changes would follow a substantial easing of Covid Zero curbs in mainland China this week, reflecting pressure on President Xi Jinping to chart a path out of the crisis and quell public discontent.
Hong Kong stocks jumped on optimism about a fuller reopening for the city. The Hang Seng Index rose as much as 2.8%, partly erasing Wednesday’s selloff, while a separate gauge of Chinese stocks trading in the city advanced more than 3%. A Bloomberg gauge of Macau casino shares rallied as much as 9.7%.
Read more: Hong Kong Bananas-Only Rule Shows Battle to Exit Covid Curbs
While Hong Kong has dismantled some of its toughest Covid rules this year, it still maintains a raft of measures that make it a global outlier. Inbound travelers are banned for the first three days after their entry from dining in at restaurants or going to bars.
And rules can sometimes be conflicting: patrons of bars need to show proof of a negative rapid test to be allowed in, but no such requirement exists for restaurants. As many as 240 people are permitted to attend a banquet, yet outdoor gatherings are limited to 12.
The ongoing restrictions have seen Hong Kong struggle to attract visitors and the city’s economy has been battered by almost three years of isolation. The government expects gross domestic product to fall 3.2% for all of 2022, which would be the city’s third contraction in four years.
Hong Kong implemented an outdoor mask mandate in July 2020, on top of rules requiring one in a raft of indoor public venues. People who don’t wear a mask face a HK$5,000 ($640) fixed penalty or as much as HK$10,000 if they’re found guilty in court.
--With assistance from Kari Lindberg.
(Updates to add details throughout. An earlier version of this story was corrected to reflect the right currency.)
©2022 Bloomberg L.P.
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