Hong Kong is in no hurry to reopen fully

HONG KONG, 3 May 2022: Airport Authority Hong Kong welcomes the government’s recent easing of rule and inbound travel control measures, including the adjustment of route-specific flight suspensions.

But not everyone is talking up the changes, with business leaders suggesting the changes are not enough to revive international travel to Hong Kong.

Effective 1 May, Hong Kong is now allowing entry for non-Hong Kong residents and allowing travellers to wait for test results at hotels, a move that airport authorities say will increase flights and passengers in the long run.

It is also reducing flight ban times to just five days down from the previous seven days while the ban kicks in if the flight lands with five or more positive cases, up from three cases before.

Facing the threat of a route ban becomes a deterrent for airlines already facing financial exposure and is cited as one of the main reasons why airlines are reluctant to commit flights to Hong Kong.

Business leaders say the changes fall short of expectations. They are also not encouraged by government statements that suggest the further easing of entry rules for travellers and airlines remain off the table.

In contrast, Singapore has removed quarantine and testing for visitors. This is helping Changi Airport revive its aspirations to become the leading aviation hub in Asia and possibly overtaking Hong Kong.

Despite easing the rules to allow non-residents to visit Hong Kong, they are still subjected to tests and hotel isolation that could extend to seven days, which is not good news for regional business travellers who normally stay in Hong Kong for two nights.

There are also calls for the flight-suspension policy to be urgently reviewed as it penalises the airline and passengers and possibly causes months of delay to secure refunds.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam last week told the media there were no plans to review or consider the further relaxation of border controls and flight suspension measures.

Cathay Pacific has revised its flight schedule for May and June, resuming services, particularly to the UK, ahead of the summer holiday season and autumn reopening of school semesters based on the easing of rules starting 1 May.

It’s counting on the Covid-19 situation improving after the fifth wave of infections ebbs. Still, business leaders wonder what would be the outcome for the territory’s airline if a sixth wave hits over the coming months and the government doubles down on restrictions.

Flight Suspensions

As of 29 April, the rule suspending airline routes due to positive Covid-19 cases tested on landing impacted the following airlines:

  • Cathay Pacific CX104 flight from Melbourne;
  • Qatar Airways QR818 flight from Doha;
  • Turkish Airlines TK083 flight from Istanbul;
  • Air Canada AC007 flight from Vancouver;
  • Cathay Pacific CX270 flight from Amsterdam;
  • Emirates EK384 flight from Dubai & Bangkok.

Outbound travel alert lifted

Meanwhile, Hong Kong confirmed the lifting of its Outbound Travel Alert effective 1 May. The government first issued the alert in response to the first wave of Covid-19 on all overseas countries and territories on 17 March, 2020. It said it removed the alert due to the relatively lower risk of travelling overseas.

“The epidemic situation in overseas countries/territories with frequent traffic with Hong Kong has generally been on a downward trend, while citizens returning to Hong Kong must be fully vaccinated.”

However, boarding, quarantine and testing requirements are still in force, and the Department of Health advises citizens to avoid non-essential outbound travel from Hong Kong.

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