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Hong Kong halves 14-day COVID route suspension

written by Isabella Richards | March 28, 2022

Cathay Pacific 777 crosses Hong Kong. (Cathay)

Hong Kong announced on Sunday it is cutting in half the suspension of international routes that carry COVID-19 positive cases from 1 April.

It comes a week after the nation also said it was lifting flight suspensions on nine of its key markets, including Australia, Canada, France, India, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines, the UK and the US, which were introduced in January due to increasing Omicron cases.

While Hong Kong still operates the tightest COVID restrictions in the world, the moves mark the first sign of the aviation industry’s return to pre-pandemic operations.

The “route-specific suspension mechanism” originally banned an airline from flying a route that carried three or more positive cases for 14 days, but from April, it will be halved to seven days.

According to the HK government, the mechanism was an “extremely severe emergency measure” to alleviate pressure off the healthcare system and reduce the chance of increased cases from that one route.

This, along with the ban lifted for nine countries, will allow for Cathay Pacific, the nation’s flag carrier, to operate more international flights and increase capacity, after operating roughly 12 per cent of pre-pandemic levels in recent months.

Cathay said it will be arranging one flight per route every two weeks after the ban is lifted.


However, the change only applies to fully vaccinated Hong Kong residents returning from the nine countries. They must test negative during their seven-day isolation, which also was shortened from the previous 14-day quarantine.

Most non-Hong Kong residents are still banned from travelling to the country.

An airline spokeswoman welcomed the change on Sunday and said: “We are actively working on resuming more flights for our customers from 1 April to cater to the anticipated demand. More details will be shared on www.cathaypacific.com as soon as possible.”

It comes after the carrier was forced to cut several international flights in December and January to maintain its stringent zero-COVID strategy.

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said while airlines have been calling for the complete removal of the mechanism, there is “no room for major relaxation” as preventing imported infections remained “a fundamental pillar of Hong Kong’s anti-epidemic policy”.

The changes have come into effect after local and international businesses have been threatening to leave Hong Kong due to the unending restrictions.

Restrictions have also remained tight for air crew, and last week, a group of airlines wrote a letter to Lam calling for the country to scrap pre-flight and on-arrival tests for flight teams, saying they have deterred people from flying to the city, according to Bloomberg.

According to Cathay, almost 250,000 tests were taken by aircrew in 2021, and only 16 returned positive.

The letter, written by 11 airlines including British Airlines, United Airlines, and more, said “We seek a return to normal flight operations in Hong Kong, in which the city can once again serve as an aviation hub,” claiming the country’s crew requirements make them a global “outlier”.

While Lam has not formally responded to the letter, on Sunday she said the government “will never be able to meet the aspirations and needs of the aviation industry”.

“We are in a public health emergency, so every business has to make sacrifices … so I hope, and I make an appeal that airlines will also understand.”


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