Hong Kong to lift ban on flights from U.S., cut quarantine time for arrivals
Hong Kong said Monday that it would lift flight bans on the U.S. and other countries and reduce quarantine time for arrivals as coronavirus infections in its latest outbreak plateau.
The city’s chief executive, Carrie Lam, announced during a news conference that a ban on flights from nine countries — Australia, Canada, France, India, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines, Britain and the U.S. — would be lifted from April 1. A flight ban on most of these countries has been in place since January, as authorities sought to stem the outbreak of the highly transmissible Omicron variant in Hong Kong.
Travelers entering the city can also quarantine for as little as a week in specially designated hotels — down from 14 days — if they test negative for the virus on the sixth and seventh days. Such travelers must also be fully vaccinated and have tested negative for the coronavirus before entering the city.
Lam also said that plans for a citywide mass-testing exercise, which was first announced in February, would be suspended.
“The experts are of the opinion that it’s not appropriate for us to devote finite resources to the universal mass-testing,” Lam said. The city’s government “will continue to monitor the situation. When the conditions are right, we will consider whether we will be implementing the compulsory universal testing.”
The changes announced Monday signal a shift in Hong Kong’s handling of the pandemic, as authorities sought to provide a direction for Hong Kong businesses and its residents after two years of aligning with mainland China’s “zero-tolerance” COVID-19 policy.
Outbreaks in Hong Kong and mainland China are testing the limits of a zero-tolerance COVID-19 policy.
Lam said that the changes come as part of an interim review of the city’s measures, and that various stakeholders in the city would be consulted on any longer-term plans regarding public health and economic development.
“We have to listen more carefully to the experts, both locally and from the mainland,” Lam said.
“For any longer-term public health strategy, we will have to take into account both factors — that is, maintaining Hong Kong’s accessibility to the mainland and also ensuring her continued connectivity with the outside world.”
On Monday, Lam also announced that social-distancing measures would remain in place, although they will be lifted in stages from April 21 if infections do not surge, Lam said. A ban on dining inside restaurants after 6 p.m. will be lifted, and public gatherings will be capped at four people, up from two.
Hong Kong’s decision to offer COVID-19 shots for very young children is in line with China’s zero-tolerance approach to the coronavirus.
Other businesses that were ordered to close temporarily, such as gyms and spas, will also be allowed to reopen.
Hong Kong reported 14,145 infections Sunday, the lowest in more than three weeks. At the peak of its outbreak, the city reported more than 50,000 cases daily It has logged more than 1 million infections and nearly 5,700 deaths since the current outbreak began at the end of last year.
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