Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam said Monday that the city would lift flight bans on nine countries starting in April and ease some of its strict quarantine measures as the government there has come under increasing criticism in its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. Flight bans will be lifted for Australia, Canada, France, India, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines, Britain and the United States.
Passengers will have to fulfil a few conditions, including being fully vaccinated, testing negative for the coronavirus no more than 48 hours before boarding and having a valid booking at a quarantine hotel. The quarantine period for overseas arrivals will also be shortened from 14 days to just seven if they return negative rapid test results on the sixth and seventh days. Arrivals can also choose to remain in quarantine longer than seven days, with a PCR test to be carried out on the 12th day of their stay, according to a report in the South China Morning Post.
The flight ban was first imposed on eight of the countries from January 8 due to the global spread of the Omicron variant, with Nepal added to the list on 12 February. Under the ban, anyone who has been to those countries in the past 14 days is also forbidden from boarding a flight to the city. Lam said that given Hong Kong’s socio-economic needs, the flight ban was no longer up-to-date. She noted that others had also suggested the city’s business environment could be undermined if quarantine requirements for inbound travellers were stricter than those for local residents. Currently, the government allows vaccinated local COVID patients to leave isolation after as little as a week if they test negative on the seventh day after their infection is first identified, the Post reported.
Cathay Pacific issued a statement saying it “welcomes the HKSAR Government’s decision to lift the place-specific flight suspension mechanism for all passenger flights from nine countries and the easing of quarantine requirements for all fully vaccinated Hong Kong residents arriving in Hong Kong. We are actively working on resuming more flights for our customers from 1 April, while also ensuring that any inconvenience caused to our customers in the event of any flight-specific suspension is minimised.