Travelers to and from Hong Kong are finally beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel with the government suspending a controversial Covid-19 flight ban policy starting today (July 7).
The so-called circuit breaker mechanism, which banned airlines from flying a particular route for five days if at least five passengers or five percent of the total number of passengers on board, whichever is higher, were found to be infected upon arrival, caused major disruptions to many’s travel plans.
About 100 flight routes have been banned this year due to the mechanism.
In a statement released on Thursday, a government spokesman said it has suspended the mechanism until further notice with immediate effect.
He noted that the number of daily Covid-19 cases has risen to four-digit figures since mid-June.
During the same period, the rate of infection among those arriving in Hong Kong from overseas has hovered between 1 and 3 percent, meaning fewer than 200 each day.
That accounts for fewer than 10 percent of the total number of cases in Hong Kong, he added.
The spokesman also said it is important to note that more than half of the imported cases can be found via a PCR testing arrangement in the restricted area of Hong Kong’s airport immediately upon arrival. Only those who get negative test results are allowed to leave for quarantine.
Further testing during quarantine also screens out the vast majority of imported cases, making the risk of community infection relatively minimal, he added.
The spokesman also announced that the government is stepping up Covid-19 testing for inbound travelers by requiring them to undergo an extra PCR test on the third day after their arrival from tomorrow (July 8).
This is in addition to the current PCR tests they have to undergo on the fifth, ninth and 12th days following their arrival in Hong Kong, as well as daily rapid antigen tests for 14 days. They also have to do a PCR test within 48 hours before their flight’s departure.
“The new measures have been decided by the government after a careful review of relevant data and they take into account how it is currently the peak period for students studying overseas to return to Hong Kong,” said the spokesman.
“The relevant measures will help reduce the impact on people arriving in Hong Kong, especially allowing young people in other places to return to Hong Kong to reunite with their families during the summer vacation. It can also more accurately and effectively block the flow of imported cases into the community with the lowest possible social cost, while maximizing the benefits of pandemic control.”
Critics have said that Hong Kong’s strict Covid-19 policies threaten to undermine its status as a global financial hub.