Hong Kong has today lifted its ban on flights from Australia and eight other countries, and reduced hotel quarantine for arrivals to seven days.
Flight bans are no longer imposed on Australia, Canada, France, India, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines, Britain, or the United States, with international travellers now able to transit through the city.
The quarantine period for overseas arrivals has been shortened from 14 days to just seven, provided travellers return a negative result to a rapid tests taken on the sixth and seventh days of their isolation.
In addition to being fully vaccinated, visitors need to produce a negative result from a Covid-19 test taken within 48 hours of boarding their flights to Hong Kong and hold a booking at a quarantine hotel.
However, tourism to the once-vibrant destiantion is unlikely to resume for some time, with non-transit entry only open to Hong Kong residents.
City chief executive Carrie Lam signalled the change to the flight ban last month, highlighting a desire to see Hong Kong move steadily towards the eventual resumption of quarantine-free travel after the current fifth wave of the pandemic subsides.
In a letter sent by Lam to Hong Kong’s International Business Committee on March 18, and reported by online news outlet HK01, Lam said “as soon as the fifth wave stabilizes, the government will spare no effort in relaunching Hong Kong on all fronts.”
She detailed the city’s recent efforts in combating the pandemic and asked for the committee’s “understanding and tolerance,” the news site reported.
The city’s “utmost priority” is to vaccinate the elderly, the local news site quoted Lam as saying. Hong Kong is battling its worst outbreak of Covid since the pandemic started, with its death rate among the highest in the world and care centers for the elderly and disabled particularly hard hit.
Travel restrictions and quarantine requirements have been the cornerstone of Hong Kong’s Covid Zero policy, designed to keep the pathogen out even as it propagated freely in the rest of the world.
With more than half-a-million infections detected since the current outbreak began in January, however, banning travellers from other areas has done little to curtail its spread.
Once the fifth wave is under control, preferably after mass testing contains any lingering routes of transmission, “we will certainly have plans or a pathway to open up Hong Kong again for our own people and for the international travel,” Lam said.
Qantas CEO Alan Joyce stated in February that he was hopeful of the airline resuming flights to Hong Kong in July.
While local infections surged to five digits daily in recent months, Hong Kong is enforcing some of the world’s most stringent travel restrictions as other international cities open up. Returning travelers must spend two weeks in hotel quarantine to ensure they aren’t infected.
Booking a spot has become increasingly difficult as the city uses hotels, together with public housing and make-shift hospitals, to isolate those who are infected with the virus. Authorities have identified more than 30 hotels for that purpose, with 18 already in operation, Lam said at the briefing.
Additional reporting by David Flynn
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