Vow to ease Covid red-tape spurs HK travel searches

Expedia reports 285pc surge in enquiries for flights to Hong Kong after ban on nine airlines to be lifted from April along with social distancing measures as Omicron cases fall

MOVES by the Hong Kong government to ease Covid restrictions following pressure from business leaders is seeing a surge in online searches for flights to the city after a lifting of a ban on nine airlines was announced this week.

Booking site Expedia reported a 285 per cent rise in enquiries for flights to Hong Kong within 48 hours of the government revealing it would lift the suspension on airlines from Australia, Canada, France, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Britain and the United States.

Bans have been imposed as part of Hong Kong’s anti-pandemic measures after it was found that passengers arriving in the city tested positive for Covid despite pre-tests prior to travelling. Tighter rules were introduced in December with two-week bans on airlines found to have four or more passengers who tested positive on arrival.

Business leaders in the city have criticised the lack of a clear roadmap out of the Covid crisis and the latest turnaround by the government follows a cabinet-level meeting in which those concerns were raised.

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On Monday, the region’s chief executive Carrie Lam said the airlines would be able to resume flights from April 1 as part of a phased easing of restrictions in the city that had been introduced in January to combat a surge in Omicron cases.

Following Lam’s announcement, Expedia said searches for flights to Hong Kong nearly tripled compared to the previous seven days, the South China Morning Post reported. About a quarter of the searches came from Britain and 15 per cent from the US.

Stringent quarantine requirements for arrivals in Hong Kong have come under fire from travel and event organisers who have seen business tumble since early 2020 and restrictions relaxed and reimposed again to counter variants of the Covid virus.

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A 21-day quarantine requirement was reduced to 14 with seven days at a government isolation facility in Penny’s Bay and the remaining period in a hotel room.

Lam revealed this week that restrictions including a ban on restaurant dining after 6pm and gym closures would be gradually eased from April 21. Flight suspensions will also be reviewed in the midst of local Covid-19 infections far outnumbering imported cases.; 12,240 infections were confirmed yesterday, but the daily numbers of infections has been falling since a spike of 29,272 recorded cases on March 16.

The chief executive has also vowed to give priority to reopening the border for quarantine-free travel with mainland China but plans for compulsory mass testing in Hong Kong have been suspended.

The chairman of the Hong Kong Medical Association’s advisory committee said the government should scrap the flight suspension policy altogether as the threat of imported cases was less serious than locally transmitted chains.

“Given that the passengers are fully vaccinated and undergo rapid antigen testing for seven days [in quarantine], the risk of having some positive cases go undetected will be much less than the risk [that already exists] within the local community,” Dr Joseph Tsang Kay-yuen was quoted by the Post as saying.

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