HONG KONG (AP) — Hong Kong will tighten entry restrictions for travelers arriving from the United States and 15 other countries beginning Friday, extending the quarantine period to 21 days.
Previously, the 15 countries, which also include Malaysia, Thailand, France and the Netherlands, were classified as medium-risk, with travelers able to serve only 7 days of quarantine if they were fully vaccinated and tested positive for antibodies prior to leaving for the city.
A resurgence of coronavirus cases in these countries due to the delta variant led the to be recategorized as high high-risk and stricter measures imposed, as the government sought to “uphold the local barrier against the importation of COVID-19,” it said in a statement.
The changes come after a domestic worker who had returned to Hong Kong from the U.S. earlier this month tested positive for the coronavirus, despite receiving two shots of vaccine and testing positive for antibodies.
Also Friday, the mandatory quarantine period was extended from 7 to 14 days for fully-vaccinated travelers with a positive antibody test arriving from Australia, now categorized as medium-risk. Quarantine requirements for New Zealand, which is the only country considered low-risk, remain at seven days for fully-vaccinated passengers.
Hong Kong’s “zero-Covid” strategy has seen authorities impose strict border restrictions and ban flights from extremely high-risk countries, in the hopes that no local community spread would allow it to re-open borders with mainland China.
The city had nearly two months of no cases within the local community, but its streak was broken earlier this month when a 43-year-old construction worker with no travel history was found to have antibodies in his blood despite not being vaccinated – indicating that he was probably infected some time ago.
Hong Kong has recorded a total of 12,037 coronavirus infections since the pandemic began, with 212 deaths.
In other developments in the Asia-Pacific region:
— Australia’s most populous state on Tuesday reported its third-highest number of daily infections of the pandemic, but the government leader said the spread of the delta variant in Sydney, the country’s largest city, had not yet peaked. There were 452 new infections recorded in New South Wales, down from 475 on Monday and 466 on Saturday. An unvaccinated woman aged in her 70s had died in a Sydney hospital on Monday, bringing the death toll from the outbreak discovered in mid-June to 53. New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian said she expected daily infections counts to remain high. “We are assuming that case numbers will go up. Now, I say that only as a realist because when you have cumulative days of high case numbers, there is a tipping point where case numbers go up,” Berejiklian said. “But our challenge is to make sure that we keep vaccination rates up,” she added. About half of New South Wales’s population has had at least one injection of the two-shot Pfizer or AstraZeneca vaccine. The government wants 80% of the population fully vaccinated before it eases Sydney’s lockdown, which began on June 26.
— New Zealand has detected its first community case of the coronavirus in months, triggering urgent meetings among top lawmakers. Health officials say the positive case was found in Auckland on Tuesday afternoon and has no known link to the border. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is due to brief the nation within a few hours. She had promised a tough approach, including possible lockdowns, for any outbreaks of the delta variant as New Zealand continues to pursue a zero-tolerance approach toward the virus. The last community outbreak was in February and New Zealand has reported just 26 virus deaths among less than 3,000 cases since the pandemic began.