Travellers sit at Hong Kong International Airport after the lifting of coronavirus disease movement controls in Hong Kong on Wednesday. (Reuters photo)
Tourists on Wednesday rejoiced over Hong Kong dropping its amber health code which had restricted their freedom of movement around the city, but a travel industry leader forecast only a small uptick in visitor numbers during the coming holiday season.
Officials on Tuesday announced the biggest overhaul of the city’s Covid-19 restrictions since the pandemic began, citing the diminished danger imported infections posed to the community, offering hope of a revival to the once-thriving tourism industry.
The Peak Tram terminus on Garden Road in Central was quiet on Wednesday morning, with few visitors aside from three local tours of schoolchildren and the disabled.
An employee staffing a ticket booth at the entrance said the rain had dampened visitor traffic, as more tourists were around on Tuesday.
A South China Morning Post reporter observed fewer than 10 tourists taking the tram in the morning, with passengers mostly local tour groups or retirees and families.
The Fangs, a Chinese couple in their 70s, made a beeline for the Peak Tram on the second day of their visit after the amber code was axed.
“It’s a lovely surprise. I’m so happy that I don’t need to wait any more. We couldn’t dine out, but now we can eat out and walk around freely,” Mrs Fang said.
“I don’t feel bothered by the vaccine pass requirement though. I do think regulations are needed especially when Hong Kong is so dense.”
The couple, who arrived from Australia on Tuesday, were staying in the city for two more days before heading to Nanjing.
“I get to see Hong Kong this time,” added her husband, who had stayed in the city for a day in 1997. “It’s like a parallel to Shanghai with all its buildings.”
Overseas travellers are required to undergo a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test at the airport upon arrival and on their third day, as well as daily rapid antigen testing until the sixth day.
Previously, upon testing negative, incoming travellers were given an amber code, which barred them from premises such as restaurants, bars and gyms during their first three days of arrival.
From Wednesday, those with a negative test result will be issued with a blue code, allowing them to roam freely around the city. People, including arrivals, who test positive, will continue to receive a red code and be subject to isolation.
Dora Ali, a 44-year-old Singaporean visiting her cousin in the city, said she believed Hong Kong could scrap the remaining vaccine pass requirements as well.
“In Singapore we’ve banished [the vaccine pass] already, it’s easier,” Ali said.
Ali, who arrived in the city last Saturday, said she ate in parks or on the streets during the three days under the amber code.
“I started dining out [on Tuesday], and the best part was also the [cancellation],” Ali said.
Across Victoria Harbour in Tsim Sha Tsui, tourist Gloria Chen was shopping at the Harbour City mall for discounted beauty products.
“It is great to hear that Hong Kong is loosening restrictions,” said Chen, who arrived from Shenzhen on Friday. “But those are mild changes for me, because I still need to quarantine anyway when I am back in Guangdong.”
But some lamented time lost under the restrictive “0+3” regime.
“My father is visiting for the winter break, but unfortunately we couldn’t go to many restaurants. We lost the chance to visit many places,” said Jihey Han, a resident in her late 30s from South Korea.
“We only had yesterday afternoon and today,” Han added, as her father was due to leave on Wednesday evening.
Paul Leung Yiu-lam, chairman of the Hong Kong Inbound Travel Association, said the policy change had come a bit too late and quarantine-free travel to mainland China had yet to resume.
He added that he expected an increase of only around 10 to 20% in the number of tourists during the Christmas and Lunar New Year holidays.
“Not everyone has to return to Hong Kong that urgently,” he said. “Those who are coming might have made their decision at the last minute.”
Leung anticipated that more tourists would come during the Easter holiday in April but he was unsure when numbers could return to pre-pandemic levels. But he remained confident about Hong Kong’s charm.