Hong Kong says it could lift Covid-19 flight ban, quarantine
Hong Kong says it could lift Covid-19 flight ban, quarantine

Hong Kong says it could lift Covid-19 flight ban, quarantine

HONG KONG – CEO Carrie Lam said her government will review its Covid-19 measures, including long quarantines and a ban on flights from key countries, which has isolated the Asian financial hub and hampered operations of global banks and multinational corporations in the city.

On Thursday, Ms Lam said the comprehensive “mid-wave review” will also cover a return to the classroomsocially distancing measures and “whether we should do this mandatory universal test” – with reference to previously announced plans to test all of the city’s 7.4 million people for coronavirus.

Since the beginning of January, Hong Kong has implemented a series of stricter rules to stem an unprecedented Omicron-driven eruption that has still infected nearly a million people and taken 4,923 lives as of Thursday. Flights from countries including the US and UK have been banned, while the high cost and lack of rooms at quarantine hotels have disappeared residents stranded and leaders unable to travel.

“I have a good feeling that some of our financial institutions are losing patience with Hong Kong’s isolated status,” Ms Lam said, promising a comprehensive update on the situation as early as Sunday. “I have a very strong feeling that people’s tolerance [is] fades. “

Since Covid-19 was first discovered in Hong Kong in early 2020, the government had successfully stopped the virus from gaining a foothold in the city with only 213 deaths before the latest wave of infections. But it happened at the expense of the open borders and the easy global connections that have been the key to the city’s success as a bridge between China and the rest of the world.

Just a week ago, Mrs Lam had insisted that there would be no change in travel policy until the latest wave of infections had subsided. Now that her Covid measures have failed to prevent widespread infections and deaths, frustration over the lack of a clear roadmap is rising out of the pandemic and the government’s unclear communication and frequent twists and turns on policies affecting all aspects of daily life.

The supermarket shelves were removed in late February after senior officials said they would not rule out a lockdown. Mrs Lam later clarified that there would be no “wholesale city lock”. On February 22, the government said schools would close for the early summer break because campuses were needed for mass testing – making an exception days later for international schools. And on Thursday, the city’s public beaches were closed, though people can still gather in crowded indoor venues for lunch.

As countries loosen Covid-19 restrictions, Hong Kong is sticking to a ‘dynamic zero-Covid’ approach – with the help of Beijing. An increase in cases has overwhelmed hospitals and threatens business confidence. Photo: Bertha Wang / Bloomberg

Apart from the ban on flights from certain countries, another rule that frustrates residents, the automatic two-week suspension of flights if more than three passengers test positive on arrival in Hong Kong, is among other triggers. Dozens of flights have been canceled under the mechanism this year, leaving travelers in search of new tickets and hotel reservations.

“Politicians have created such nightmares for people here as they never know if their plane will be canceled at the last minute,” said Peter Davies, who has lived in Hong Kong since 1994 and has a business in the city. “I lost a huge amount of sleep because of the uncertainty.”

Mr. Davies spent weeks finding a way back to Hong Kong in early January after the U.S. flight ban derailed his return from spending Christmas with his family in Hawaii. He spent a few weeks in Fiji planning to take a plane back, and when it was canceled, he went to Singapore before returning to Hong Kong and coming out of quarantine several weeks later than planned.

In October, when countries including Singapore and Australia began laying out a roadmap for “living with the virus”, Hong Kong adhered to rules requiring many travelers to be quarantined in hotel rooms at your own expense for three weeks.

The Asia Securities Industry & Financial Markets Association warned at the time that 48% of companies surveyed were considering relocating staff or functions out of Hong Kong because of the challenges posed by the restrictions. In february, tens of thousands of residents left the cityalthough it is unclear how many have gone forever.

When the highly contagious Omicron variant began circulating around the world in late November, Hong Kong’s response was to extend quarantine from any country where Omicron was discovered. At the same time, it did not escalate efforts to inoculate the hundreds of thousands of unvaccinated persons over 70 years of age.

The current outbreak is linked to a family member of a returning traveler suspected of having captured Covid at the end of her 21-day quarantine stay. In late January, as the eruption worsened, Mrs. Lam’s government arrived abbreviated most quarantine measures to 14 days, with reference to Omicron’s shorter incubation period.

“The current Covid-19 measures are creating considerable anxiety and concern,” said David Graham, head of the British Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong. “Relaxing these restrictions would be very welcome news.”

Write to Natasha Khan at [email protected]

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