HK easing of travel ban leaves business still waiting

INTERNATIONAL business leaders in Hong Kong have urged the government to do more in easing quarantine and travel restrictions that penalise airlines with bans if passengers are found to be testing positive for Covid on arrival in the city.

Hong Kong is also allowing non-residents to travel to the city from May 1, but members of the business community with overseas connections say the loosening of an entry ban that has hindered travel and tourism for two years is not enough.

“Things remain unpredictable, things remain unmanageable,” said Michiel Mak, vice chairman of the Dutch Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong, told The Standard. “For businesspeople, unpredictability is the worst thing. Even if you have complied with the rules, there’s no guarantee that you can travel at all.”

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The suspension of an airline route if three or more passengers are found to have tested positive on arrival has led to cancellations of direct routes and situations in which travellers who changed planes enroute to Hong Kong being stranded when their connecting flight is cancelled because of the policy. The previous threshold was one passenger.

Though strict quarantine measures have been eased with a mandatory 14-day stay at a hotel being halved, the policy has still come under criticism along with flight suspensions particularly as rival destinations such as Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand have opened their borders.

George Cautherley, vice chairman of the International Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong, told The Standard: “To have to have someone in quarantine for seven days on a business trip simply isn’t really financially viable.

“Frankly, this move, I think will have minimal effect on helping the business community really generate international business for Hong Kong.”

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Hong Kong tightened social-distancing rules following a fifth wave of Covid triggered by the Omicron variant. Lowering case numbers have seen restrictions eased with restaurants allowed to open after 6pm and allow four to a table, instead of two, among other measures.

The flight-suspension rule, however, continued to stall plans both for international companies in the city and carriers. “The [flight-suspension] mechanism, even as amended, will continue to result in difficult logistical issues for both airlines and passengers,” David Graham, executive director of the British Chamber of Commerce told the newspaper.

“Accordingly, we continue to request the government to move towards the removal of the mechanism in its entirety as soon as possible.”

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IATA, the global association for airlines, welcome the government’s latest move but said much more needed to be done.

“The issue is that airlines still face the possibility of a suspension for something outside of their control even though passengers have presented the necessary documents and test certificates,” IATA spokesman Albert Tjoeng told the South China Morning Post.

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