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Published: 12:09, January 31, 2023 | Updated: 12:09, January 31, 2023
Hong Kong ends COVID-19 isolation orders effective Monday
By William Xu and Xi Tianqi in Hong Kong
Published:12:09, January 31, 2023 Updated:12:09, January 31, 2023 By William Xu and Xi Tianqi in Hong Kong

Hong Kong made another stride toward post-COVID-19 normalcy on Monday by ending the issuing of isolation orders to those who test positive for the disease, and closing the COVID-19 outpatient clinics.

Confirmed patients with no symptoms now are allowed to move freely in the city and go to work. However, students who test positive cannot return to classes until they can present a negative self-test result.

While inspecting public hospital operations at United Christian Hospital, Secretary for Health Lo Chung-mau said the city’s pandemic situation has entered a new stage. The Hong Kong government needs to make prompt adjustments to create a better environment for the revival of livelihood and economic activities, he said.

Patients who had been in isolation facilities were allowed to leave on Monday without obtaining a negative self-test result. Patients who wish to continue to stay in the quarantine centers or in quarantine can stay for up to seven days.

Nursing-home residents who test positive and have received less than three doses of COVID-19 vaccines can opt for holding centers run by the Social Welfare Department for care. The transitional arrangement will continue through Feb 28.

To prepare for the potential surge in COVID cases, the Hospital Authority enhanced its general outpatient services. About 2,000 slots in the 10,000 daily consultation quota are reserved for COVID-19 patients in the city’s 71 general outpatient clinics. As of 5 pm on Monday, over 1,400 COVID-19 patients have used the service.

Confirmed patients can also seek treatment from private doctors.

Earlier, the Education Bureau had announced that as of Monday, teachers, staff, school bus drivers and bus attendants no longer need to take rapid antigen tests daily before returning to school. However, such requirements for students will remain in effect through February.

Applications for the HK$5,000 ($638) one-time cash allowance for locally confirmed COVID-19 patients will close on Feb 14. The allowance program was introduced in November 2020 to help hospitalized COVID-19 patients who are Hong Kong residents and don’t have paid sick leave or who are self-employed. As of Friday, the government had paid HK$13.64 million to 2,728 residents under the program.

Previously, employees could claim paid sick leave with the isolation orders issued by the government’s health officers. Beginning on Monday, a COVID-19 patient needs to obtain sick leave certificates from a doctor to get paid sick leave.

In a radio program, Tam Kam-lin, vice-chairwoman of the Federation of Hong Kong and Kowloon Labour Unions, expressed her concerns over the new sick leave arrangement. She said in most cases, employees get only up to two days of sick leave for each medical visit. Patients may need to see doctors multiple times for more serious matters, and the consultation costs may become a burden to grassroots families, Tam added.

Tam said that many employees in the retail, catering and transportation industries do not get their full salaries and attendance bonuses if they take sick leave. She urged business owners to consider accepting self-test results in the early stages of lifting the quarantine order to ease diagnosed employees’ financial burdens and to ensure they have sufficient rest.

Test-free travel expected

The current mandatory COVID-19 PCR tests required for travel between the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and the Chinese mainland are due to be scrapped in the coming days, said Tam Yiu-chung, a Hong Kong delegate to the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress — the country’s top legislature — at a spring reception of a local political party on Sunday.

Citing Chief Secretary for Administration Eric Chan Kwok-ki, Tam Yiu-chung said he assumed the decision will be made in the next few days. Since Hong Kong and the mainland resumed quarantine-free travel on Jan 8, travelers in each direction need to produce a negative COVID-19 test within 48 hours of departure.

He said the daily quota set for SAR residents traveling north could also be removed as the quota had not been met during the Lunar New Year holiday, and cross-boundary travel has been safe and orderly so far.

Contact the writers at williamxu@chinadailyhk.com

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