HONGKONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong authorities said on Friday residents who have been fully vaccinated can spend a shorter time in quarantine if they have been exposed to a COVID-19 patient, after thousands of people were sent to tiny quarantine quarters for up to 21 days.
The new rule comes as the city government is trying to encourage people to get vaccinated against the novel coronavirus.
Only about 14% of Hong Kong’s 7.5 million people have had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine since a campaign was launched in February.
Ronald Lam, controller of the Centre for Health Protection of the city’s Department of Health, said fully vaccinated residents considered a close contact of a COVID-10 patient can do seven days in government quarantine and seven days of self-monitoring at home.
But people exposed to a virus variant would have to do 14 days in quarantine and seven days of self-monitoring, he said.
The city has some of the strictest quarantine measures globally with close contacts of coronavirus patients ordered to go to government quarantine for up to 21 days.
A person is considered fully vaccinated 14 days after their second of two vaccinations.
The Chinese special administrative region has kept COVID-19 transmission largely under control, recording more than 11,700 coronavirus cases and 210 deaths, much lower than many other developed cities.
Residents have been hesitant to take the vaccine due to worries over adverse reactions and lack of confidence in the Chinese-made Sinovac vaccine. Hong Kong offers both Sinovac and Germany’s BioNTech vaccines and residents can choose.
Many residents have also questioned why vaccinated people are subject to the same quarantine measures as people who are not.
The Department of Health recently told all residents of several apartment complexes to spend 21 days in quarantine after COVID-19 cases were detected.
In response, thousands of people signed an online petition asking the government to allow home quarantine for those who have been vaccinated.
Separately, from May 12 vaccinated residents returning to the city after travelling could see their hotel quarantine shortened depending on where they are arriving from.
People coming from Australia, New Zealand and Singapore will have to quarantine in a hotel for seven days, down from 14. People coming from “medium and high risk areas”, will have to quarantine for 14 days rather than 21.
Hong Kong residents based in mainland China can return to the city under a quota system without having to spend time in quarantine.
(Reporting by Farah Master; Editing by Robert Birsel; Editing by Robert Birsel)