Hong Kong on Monday morning welcomed its first batch of arrivals from overseas who no longer have to undergo hotel quarantine, with the city lifting its tough Covid-19 pandemic regime after more than two years of efforts to keep out the coronavirus. Passengers were seen hugging loved ones amid touching scenes of reunion at the airport before 7am. About nine travellers were among the first to enter the arrival hall, fresh off a flight from Taipei and headed home or to their hotels without having to wait for Covid-19 test results. Most inbound travellers were residents or expatriates returning for work, or people visiting family in the city. Forty-six flights were set to land in Hong Kong on Monday, with one airline delaying its scheduled arrival time so passengers could qualify for the non-quarantine measures, which took effect from 6am. Simon Ha, a 58-year-old tour guide returning from Taiwan, said: “I bought my tickets yesterday upon hearing about the ‘0+3’ arrangement. It was very last minute and I bought this flight because it was cheap.” He was referring to the new scheme under which arrivals only need to undergo three days of home medical surveillance with limited citywide movement. Ha said airline staff only asked for a photo of his pre-departure rapid antigen test (RAT) results at Taipei airport. He added that he had saved a lot of money and time under the new arrangement, including nearly HK$1,000 (US$127) for a pre-departure polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test, which has been waived under the new policy. “I’ve missed wonton noodles and haven’t seen my family for two years. I was very excited when I found out about the new arrangement,” Ha said. He maintained, however, that the current arrangement was still a compromise. “I can’t wait for [‘0+0’] to be launched, ‘0+3’ is acceptable and it should’ve been like this earlier.” Hong Kong has dropped Covid hotel quarantine: how did it get to this point? Ha’s flight was originally set to land at around 2.10am but the airline delayed the take-off by four hours to ensure it would arrive in Hong Kong after 6am. In a reply to a Post inquiry, Hong Kong Airlines confirmed the rescheduling of flight HX285 was to take advantage of the new “0+3” arrangement and “to provide our passengers with greater convenience”. ‘Halfway plan’: no surge in Hong Kong hotel bookings after easing of travel curbs “[We] welcome the Hong Kong government’s decision to further relax the quarantine arrangement for passengers arriving in Hong Kong, thereby facilitating the gradual resumption of travel activities,” the airline added. The city’s flagship carrier Cathay Pacific operates CX811, a code-share flight with American Airlines’ AA8891, from Boston, which landed in Hong Kong at around 6.45am. Passenger Ben Page, who works in the airline industry, praised the checks upon landing as streamlined, saying airport staff were familiar with the new procedures and the process only took about 20 minutes. The off-duty employee, in his mid-thirties, said the inability to dine out during the three days of medical surveillance did not bother him, but he hoped to see that lifted in the future. “It’s a big step to open up Hong Kong. The change in hotel quarantine mattered because it was hard [to book hotels] and time-consuming for people,” Page added. On the first day under the “0+3” arrangement, travellers trickled into the airport after completing a PCR test upon landing. Bess Palermo, 38, said it only took her a few minutes to get swabbed after landing from Manila. She is in Hong Kong for the first time to work as a domestic helper, and her agency had booked the Monday flight to avoid quarantine. “I have been working in Manila for two years because I couldn’t go back to Saudi Arabia [for work] due to the pandemic,” Palermo said. “I don’t mind if I have to quarantine.” Palermo, waiting for an arranged pick-up from the airport, said she would be living in accommodation set up by her agency for the first three days before joining her new employer. Julian Teeling, a 78-year-old business executive who also took the Boston flight, said there were more passengers than he had expected, noting that economy class seemed packed. In Hong Kong to visit his wife, Teeling said he had not been home for more than two years since leaving the city for the United States in January 2020. He added that he would still spend his first three days in a hotel, as he did not cancel his booking when the quarantine measure was dropped. Passengers on Monday mostly opted for the train via the Airport Express or buses to reach their destination. A Post reporter observed that queues at the train terminus and bus depot remained short. The Airport Express came at 15-minute intervals. Hong Kong travellers rush to book trips after city eases quarantine curbs Hong Kong’s easing of entry rules, announced by Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu last Friday, came as Taiwan indicated a similar move and Japan said it would drop a cap on its daily limit for arrivals next month. From Monday, Hong Kong’s “3+4” arrangement – three days of compulsory quarantine in designated hotels plus four of home medical surveillance – was converted to a “0+3” model. Arriving travellers can choose to undergo the three days of medical surveillance at home or in a hotel, during which they are free to go out but cannot enter such places as eateries and bars, fitness centres, nightclubs, swimming pools, barber shops or religious premises, where “active checking” of the vaccine pass is required, unless they work there. The medical surveillance will be followed by a four-day self-monitoring period, adding up to a seven-day observation stretch. During the period, arrivals are required to self-conduct RATs daily and undergo PCR tests on days 2, 4, and 6, given the day of arrival being day 0. Hong Kong residents celebrate end of dreaded hotel quarantine measures A PCR test result before boarding is no longer needed, replaced by an online declaration of a negative result from a self-arranged RAT conducted within 24 hours from departure. Hong Kong residents who are not fully vaccinated can also return. A PCR test is still needed upon arrival at the airport, but visitors can head home or to a hotel with transport of their choice without having to stay back for the results, instead of waiting to be cleared and leaving in designated coaches or taxis. The latest move is aimed at reinvigorating Hong Kong, with its competitive edge under threat as many countries and hubs in the region, such as Singapore, already opened to lure business and tourism.