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Hong Kong to scrap almost all its Covid rules

Hong Kong is dropping almost all its Covid restrictions this week, following a similar move by mainland China.
From Thursday, people arriving in the city - a special administrative region of China - will no longer have to do mandatory PCR tests.

The vaccine pass system will also be scrapped - but compulsory masks in public places will continue.

It is a dramatic move by the city, which once had some of the toughest restrictions in the world.

Also being scrapped from Thursday is the rule that limits the number of people allowed to gather outside to 12.

This was increased from four people in October as part of measures to begin reopening the city.

Hong Kong's leader, John Lee, cited high vaccine rates as one of the reasons for lifting restrictions.

According to government figures, 93% of the population have had two vaccine doses, while more than 83% have received three.

But only 64% of people over 80 - the most vulnerable age group - have had three doses.

Unlike mainland China, which has developed its own vaccines, Hong Kong has also used mRNA vaccines - including the BioNTech jab made in Germany - that have been shown to be more effective.

"Hong Kong has a sufficient amount of medicine to fight Covid, and healthcare workers have gained rich experience in facing the pandemic," Mr Lee said on Wednesday.

"The society has established a relatively extensive and overall anti-epidemic barrier."

Mr Lee added that instead of the vaccine pass, which has limited access to public places for unvaccinated since it was introduced in February, the city would take "more targeted measures" - including promoting vaccination for the elderly and children.

More than 11,000 people have died with Covid in Hong Kong, according to official numbers, from more than 2.5m cases.

Since the pandemic began, the city has largely followed mainland China's lead in efforts to tackle the virus, including attempts to eliminate it with a "zero-Covid" strategy.

This has been criticised by some residents and business owners - who said the policy damaged Hong Kong's economy and international standing.

The scrapping of the Hong Kong's Covid restrictions comes weeks after mainland China made a similar move following landmark protests against the strict controls.

On Monday and Tuesday, Beijing announced further plans to ease travel restrictions. Hong Kong has said that it will fully reopen its borders with the rest of China before mid-January.

The mainland is currently experiencing a surge in cases, with reports suggesting hospitals are overwhelmed and elderly people are dying.

Hong Kong is part of China and is governed by the "one country, two systems" principle, but Beijing has tightened control in recent years.
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