HONG KONG (AP) — Hong Kong announced Thursday it is shelving a COVID-19 measure that has resulted in dozens of canceled flights in recent months and thwarted travel plans for thousands.
Starting Thursday, the city will no longer ban arriving airline flights just because they'd brought in passengers infected with COVID-19, the government announced.
“The new measure is a decision made by the government after careful review of relevant data and taking into account the current peak period for international students returning to Hong Kong,” a government spokesperson said.
Previously, a five-day flight route ban was imposed on airlines if at least five passengers or 5% of travelers — whichever is higher — tested positive for the coronavirus on arrival. That caused about 100 flight cancellations since the beginning of the year.
The announcement noted that most imported COVID-19 infections could be detected by the coronavirus tests at the airport and in hotels.
The flight suspension rule had “little effect” on preventing imported infections and the risk of those cases causing infection in the community are “relatively minimal,” the government said.
Travelers had griped that the regulation's last-minute flight cancellations also affected quarantine hotel bookings. Those impacted often had to postpone their rescheduled trips for weeks because hotels tend to be booked out months ahead.
Despite lifting the flight bans, travelers arriving in Hong Kong will still need to test negative for the coronavirus before arriving in the city, serve a mandatory quarantine period of seven days in a designated hotel in Hong Kong, and undergo a series of rapid tests and nucleic acid tests for the coronavirus over a two-week period.
Hong Kong leader John Lee and health authorities have said they are exploring options to keep Hong Kong open to international travelers, including a possible reduction of mandatory quarantine periods.