Hong Kong hopes to 'resolve' Covid flight-ban rule as cases ease

Travellers wearing face masks queue at the check-in counters of the Hong Kong International Airport amid the coronavirus disease pandemic in Hong Kong on Monday. (Reuters photo)

HONG KONG: Hong Kong is looking to resolve a problem over a ban on airlines which bring in Covid-positive passengers as it eases travel curbs that have sealed off the city for two years, its leader said on Wednesday

The government said this 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 but it was not clear if airlines would face a two-week ban if they bring in infected people, as is currently the case.

Many residents have not been able to return to the Chinese-ruled city because of a shortage of mandatory quarantine hotels and city leader Carrie Lam suggested in a media briefing more space would be provided.

But an equally pressing issue for many has been the rule that bans an airline from flying to the city for 14 days if it carries several people who test positive for the coronavirus upon arrival.

The city's flagship carrier, Cathay Pacific, said on Tuesday it would only operate one flight every two weeks from popular destinations including the United States and Britain because of the rule, compounding a feeling of isolation that many frustrated residents feel.

Lam, asked what the government might do about the rule and if there was any chance it could be scrapped, said: "I can only say that we know the problem, and we are looking on how we could resolve this without compromising our border control measures."

Health authorities reported 12,240 new Covid-19 cases on Wednesday, down from 14,152 the previous day, and 205 new deaths.

Hong Kong's "dynamic zero" coronavirus strategy, which aims to stamp out outbreaks as they occur with contact tracing, testing and isolation, largely protected it from the virus until the beginning of this year.

But the Omicron variant has breached the defences, surging through the city of 7.4 million people over recent weeks, killing large numbers of elderly who declined to get vaccinated, many because of fear of side-effects and the belief Hong Kong had dodged the worst.

Since the pandemic began in 2020, Hong Kong has recorded more than 1 million infections and more than 6,300 deaths - most of them in the past month.

Densely populated Hong Kong has registered the most deaths per million people.

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