Hong Kong ends mandatory city-run isolation for Covid variants

HONG Kong will no longer require people infected with the most highly infectious Covid-19 subvariants to isolate at government-run facilities, scrapping a rule that led many to fear reporting infections as cases surged in the city.

Local patients with Omicron subvariants BA.2.12.1, BA.4 or BA.5, and their close contacts, will no longer face mandatory isolation at community facilities starting today (Jul 20), said Chuang Shuk-kwan, an official at the Health Department's Centre for Health Protection. Patients must meet criteria to allow them to safely isolate at home instead, including an appropriate bedroom and bathroom, she said at a briefing. No high-risk individuals may be in the home.

The move is the latest change since John Lee took over as the city's Chief Executive at the start of July. His administration previously suspended a system that banned airlines from flying routes that brought in high numbers of Covid-infected passengers. Officials have also said they are looking at reducing the length of time newly arrived travellers must spend in hotel quarantine.

City health officials determined that the newer subvariants are more transmissible, but not more dangerous, than previous versions based on data from the local community. By the time a newly infected person has reported their infection and undergone more testing to confirm the makeup of the virus, they likely have already spent several days at home, Chuang said. Sending them to an isolation facility may not be more effective.

The change will bring relief to many people worried about being sent to the government's facilities, which provide only basic accommodation and provisions. Patients who quarantine at home are required to wear a digital bracelet to ensure they don't leave, another policy Hong Kong's new administration brought in last week.

Officials said that about 4,400 Covid patients are currently quarantining in the city-run Penny's Bay isolation centre, with another 600 people staying in hotels. Hong Kong reported just over 3,800 cases on Wednesday. BLOOMBERG


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