Hong Kong’s government has announced it will allow foreigners to fly into the city starting in May, ending an entry ban that has kept most visitors away for more than two years, according to media reports. The city will also relax the threshold for suspending incoming flights carrying infected passengers from 1 May, officials said on Friday (22 April). The existing three-person threshold will be raised to five, or 5 percent of the passengers on a single flight, whichever is greater. The length of time flight routes are suspended will be cut from seven days to five, according to a report in the South China Morning Post.
In announcing the end of the entry ban, the Food and Health Bureau said the decision to reopen the city to foreigners was made after a government steering committee reviewed the situation. “Considering public health factors … and balancing the expectation from members of the public as well as the various sectors of the community … the committee considers that there is room to suitably adjust relevant measures,” it said.
All arrivals at Hong Kong International Airport, including residents and visitors, will be required to take a rapid antigen test in addition to the usual polymerase chain reaction (PCR) ones, the government said. Those who test negative via the rapid test will be required to take dedicated transport to undergo seven days of quarantine at designated hotels, while waiting for their PCR test result. Hong Kong officials said of all COVID infections recorded between January and March, only 3 percent were imported, while the proportion fell to 1 percent for cases logged since 1 April, when a ban on flights from nine countries including Britain and the United States ended.
Hong Kong barred non-residents from most countries from entering in 2021 as the Omicron variant began to spread around the world, and by this past January, the number of places on the “no-entry list” had ballooned to more than 160, although visitors who had stayed in mainland China, Macau or Taiwan were unaffected, the Post reported. This past February, only 2,600 people arrived in the city for the purposes of travel, a far cry from the 5 million visitors recorded in the same month in 2019 before the pandemic hit.
Hong Kong’s flag carrier Cathay Pacific said the latest measures were a positive direction for strengthening connectivity to the aviation hub, and it would be working to resume more flights.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) said on Monday (25 April) that “The easing of border measures announced by the Hong Kong SAR government is a step forward. But a lot more still needs to be done to rebuild Hong Kong’s connectivity and support the recovery of aviation sector. Allowing non-residents to enter Hong Kong is a welcome development. The need to be quarantined, however, continues to be a disincentive for many people considering travel to Hong Kong, especially when many other cities in Asia are already allowing quarantine free travel. And while Hong Kong has eased the threshold for suspending flights that bring in infected passengers, and has reduced the suspension period, the reality is that airlines still face the uncertainty and possibility of a suspension for something outside of their control, even though passengers have presented the necessary documentation and test certificates. Many governments in the Asia-Pacific region have lifted quarantine for vaccinated travelers. They are currently looking at removing or have removed COVID-19 test requirements. That is what Hong Kong needs to be working towards.”