The measures will come into effect Monday.
“While we can’t control the trend of the epidemic, we must allow the maximum room to allow connectivity with the world so that we can have economic momentum and to reduce inconvenience to arriving travelers,” said Lee, who also said that authorities will not roll back the measures announced Friday.
He said that there must be a “balance between risks and economic growth.”
From Monday, travelers into Hong Kong will have to undergo three days of home monitoring. If they test negative for COVID-19 after three days, they will be allowed into venues such as restaurants and bars. They must also undergo several mandatory coronavirus tests on their fourth, sixth and seventh days in Hong Kong.
For nearly two years, Hong Kong required overseas arrivals in the city to serve a period of mandatory quarantine in designated hotels. At one point, the city had among the world’s longest quarantine periods at 21 days of mandatory isolation.
The easing of measures comes as Hong Kong prepares to hold several high-profile events, including the Rugby Sevens tournament in November and an international banking summit.
Neighboring Taiwan is expected to do the same next month. This leaves mainland China as one of the only places in the world that will still require travelers to quarantine on arrival.
Hong Kong has for most of the pandemic aligned with China’s “zero-COVID” strategy.
Over the past 2 1/2 years, Hong Kong authorities have imposed strict social distancing measures and locked down residential buildings with confirmed COVID-19 infections to mass-test residents.
As the rest of the world reopened borders, businesses urged Hong Kong authorities to come up with an exit strategy to the pandemic in order to remain competitive amid a brain drain as tens of thousands of residents left the city.
Several companies also moved their offices to countries like Singapore as they sought relief from the city’s restrictions.
Singapore had eased travel curbs and relaxed coronavirus restrictions months before Hong Kong, sparking concerns that Hong Kong may lose out in competitiveness as an international financial center and regional business hub.
Lee said authorities will keep monitoring the epidemic situation in Hong Kong to determine if further relaxation is possible, adding he was “optimistic” that the loosening of requirements will be welcomed by those who wish to enter Hong Kong.
“If there are positive developments as we progress ? there will be more room for us to do extra measures so that we can have more movement, more activities and more room for us to go about different (activities),” he said.