Hong Kong Suspends Citywide COVID Testing Plans as Cases Begin to Decline

Hong Kong's leader said Monday that plans for citywide coronavirus testing in the city will no longer proceed as the latest wave of cases diminishes.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam said the mandatory mass-testing exercise, which was announced in February, will no longer be required because experts believe resources don't need to be dedicated to the program, according to the Associated Press.

"The experts are of the opinion that it's not appropriate for us to devote finite resources to the universal mass testing," Lam said during a press conference. "The SAR government will continue to monitor the situation. When the conditions are right, we will consider whether we will be implementing the compulsory universal testing."

China has seen a surge of coronavirus cases from the highly contagious Omicron variant in recent months. Hong Kong reported 14,145 new cases on Monday, the lowest report of infections in over three weeks. At the peak of the surge, the city reported over 50,000 new cases daily, with over 1 million infections reported since the surge began, according to AP.

Amid an easing of COVID-19 restrictions, Lam also announced a change in travel rules for flights and passengers entering the city. Officials will be lifting flight bans on nine countries—Australia, Canada, France, India, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines, Britain and the U.S.—beginning April 1.

Meanwhile, travelers entering Hong Kong no longer need to quarantine for two weeks upon arrival. If people test negative for the virus on the sixth and seventh day of the quarantine, they are free to leave isolation but are required to be fully vaccinated. Travelers have not been able to visit the city since the restrictions were implemented in January to curb the spread of the virus.

Additionally, social distancing measures will remain in place, but starting on April 21 they will begin to ease. Lam said the restrictions will be lifted during three phases over three months. This first phase involves reopening gyms, beauty salons and sports facilities, with dine-in restaurant hours extended, the South China Morning Post reported.

In the second phase, bars would reopen and mask exemptions would be allowed for some outdoor activities. The third phase would no longer have a restricted group limit for restaurants and bars and would further extend hours for businesses.

Meanwhile, 37 million people are under lockdown in mainland China as the country faces its biggest outbreak of cases since the beginning of the pandemic. Over the past three days, some 12,000 new cases have been reported across the country, according to CNN.

Update 03/21/22, 10:37 a.m. ET: This story was updated with additional information and background.

Hong Kong Ends Mass Testing
Hong Kong's leader said plans for a citywide mass-testing exercise, which were announced in February, would be suspended. Above, a medical staff directs residents at a makeshift coronavirus testing station in Hong Kong on February 18. Anthony Kwan/Getty Images