Covid-19: Hong Kong halves ban time for airlines with infected passengers

Starting on April 1, the ban on individual airline routes will be reduced to seven days. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

HONG KONG (REUTERS, BLOOMBERG) - Hong Kong said on Sunday (March 27) it is shortening the ban on airlines that are found to have carried three or more passengers who test positive for Covid-19 upon arrival, as the number of local cases continues to ease from its peak.

Starting on Friday, the ban on individual airline routes will be reduced to seven days, from 14 previously, as part of its ongoing "flight suspension mechanism", the government said in a statement.

If there is at least one positive test and at least one case of non-compliance with pre-departure testing on any single flight, the airline will also be suspended from flying the route for seven days.

"On the premise of continuing the measures to guard against the importation of cases, the government requires that all airlines must stringently enforce the boarding requirements for inbound travelers, so as to reduce the risk of importation of cases as far as practicable," the government said in a statement. "And will continue to impose the flight suspension mechanism against specific non-compliant routes based on the streamlined triggering criteria."

The change came after the government said last week a ban on flights from nine countries - Canada, India, Pakistan, Nepal, Britain, the United States, France, Australia and the Philippines - would be lifted on April 1. The quarantine period will also be halved from 14 to seven days starting from April 1.

The city's flagship carrier Cathay Pacific Airways said it would only schedule one flight per route every 14 days for the nine countries whose flight bans were lifted, on concerns the mechanism could be triggered.

The Hong Kong government also announced the implementation of a special Covid-19 screening arrangement starting Tuesday. Travellers will be subject to an additional rapid polymerase chain reaction-based nucleic acid test before they can check in for flights to China.

Hong Kong will start a Covid-19 home vaccination programme for older or disabled residents in the coming weeks as the city seeks to boost its inoculation rate, Chief Executive Carrie Lam said at a press briefing on Sunday. 

The government plans to start registration for home vaccinations with older or disabled residents at public housing estates where compulsory testing will be carried out in restricted areas, Mr Patrick Nip, Secretary for the Civil Service, said at the briefing.

Hong Kong reported 8,037 new Covid-19 infections on Sunday and 151 deaths, the second day in a row below 10,000 cases.

The financial hub will relax the social distancing measures in phases starting from April 21, allowing restaurant dining after 6pm with tables of four people, up from two currently.

Hong Kong’s economy is set to contract in the first quarter, breaking four quarters of recovery streak, as retail sales fell for the first time in 12 months in February and export growth slowed, Financial Secretary Paul Chan said on his blog.

Businesses and the city’s economy are reeling from widespread closures, as the government has imposed stringent social distancing rules since January amid a dramatic spike in the Omicron variant.

While the city has officially stuck to a “dynamic zero” coronavirus policy similar to that of mainland China, which seeks to curb all outbreaks, it has been shifting to mitigation strategies as deaths skyrocketed.

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