Hong Kong will shorten the Covid-19 hotel quarantine period for all arrivals to three days from seven, taking another step to gradually unwind stringent pandemic rules that have isolated the Asian financial hub.
The measures will be effective from Friday, the city's leader, John Lee, told a news conference.
Arrivals will need to self monitor for a further four days, during which they will be forbidden to enter such premises as restaurants and bars.
"We need to balance between people's livelihood and the competitiveness of Hong Kong to give the community maximum momentum and economic vitality," Mr Lee said.
People in quarantine will be issued a red code on a government mandated app. This will change to a yellow code once they leave quarantine, signifying they may not enter crowded premises.
Quarantine was formerly as long as three weeks. Currently, all arrivals must spend at least a week in hotel quarantine and comply with frequent testing orders, provide faecal samples for babies and fill out multiple forms.
Only a select number of hotels are available for quarantine.
Rooms are costly and are typically booked out months in advance. Payment is made up front and refunds are not permitted unless there is a change in government policy or flight cancellation.
Hong Kong's competitiveness has been hammered by the pandemic measures, business executives have said, hoping Mr Lee,the city's leader since 1 July, would scrap the quarantine rules.
The city's border has been almost completely sealed since 2020, with international arrivals facing tough quarantine and testing protocols. It is one of the last places in the world still imposing quarantine for arrivals.
Mr Lee has pledged to reconnect Hong Kong with the mainland and the rest of the world. He suspended a rule in July that banned individual flights if they brought in passengers infected with the coronavirus, saying it caused unnecessary trouble and inconvenience for residents.
More than 100 flights were banned this year, a major frustration for businesses and residents use to easy and efficient travel from the city.
Hong Kong's popular international Rugby Sevens event will take place on 4-6 November for the first time in more than three years. It was cancelled in 2020 and 2021 because of pandemic measures.
The tournament, which is a draw for international visitors, is meant to coincide with a major banking conference that month to be attended by top global executives and will be a sign thatHong Kong can resume business as normal.
Bankers have said that quarantine free travel is a pre-condition for the event to take place.
China's Hainan expands Covid lockdowns to quell outbreak
China's Hainan, an island province dependent on tourism, locked down more areas, state media reported, as it battles its worst Covid-19 outbreak after seeing very few cases the past two years compared with many other regions in the country.
The island in the South China Sea, which recorded just two local symptomatic Covid cases last year, has reported more than 1,400 domestically transmitted infections this month, including 982 symptomatic ones.
Although that is small by global standards, it is the province's biggest outbreak since the virus was first reported in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019.
The sharp increase in cases comes amid a pick-up in interest in tourism after China slightly eased curbs aimed at domestic travel, accounting for the shorter incubation period of the Omicron variant, which facilitates a shorter quarantine time.
However, the curbs in Hainan, in line with China's "dynamic Covid-zero" policy that aims to stamp out outbreaks as soon as possible, point to persistent uncertainty shrouding travel. That may further dampen confidence in the tourism and hospitality sectors, which are particularly vulnerable to Covid restrictions.
The provincial capital city of Haikou, with about 2.9 million residents, and two smaller towns, Ledong and Chengmai,locked down its residents, according to state media reports.
At least eight cities and towns, with a combined population of about 7 million, said their residents must not leave where they live except for necessary reasons such as Covid tests, grocery shopping or essential job roles. They also suspended public transport services.
The measures will stay in place for varying periods, with the shortest scheduled for a few hours, state media reports show.
About 25,000 tourists were stranded in Sanya, the hardest-hit city in Hainan's outbreak and the island's key tourist hub, as of yesterday. Although cities have said tourists can leave after Covid tests, many were frustrated about the disruption.
In Qionghai city, scheduled to be locked down for three days, all flights at Qionghai Boao Airport scheduled for today were cancelled because of "public security reasons".
Nationwide, China reported 807 locally transmitted Covid infections for yesterday, of which were 324 symptomatic and 483 were asymptomatic, the National Health Commission said.
There were no new deaths, keeping the nation's fatalities unchanged at 5,226.
As of yesterday, mainland China had confirmed 231,266 cases with symptoms, including both local patients and symptomatic international travellers.
China's capital, Beijing, reported two new local symptomatic cases for yesterday, while Shanghai and the southern technology hub of Shenzhen reported no new local cases.