Hong Kong is to lift its Covid-19 flight ban from nine countries from April 1, Chief Executive Carrie Lam has announced. Meanwhile, schools will be able to resume in-person classes from April 19 at the earliest.

Flight bans from Australia, Canada, France, India, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines, the UK and the US will be lifted. Lam said at Monday’s press briefing that the flight suspensions were “no longer timely,” as the pandemic situation in the listed countries was often “no worse than Hong Kong.”

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Hong Kong will no longer divide travellers from different categories of countries – but only residents with a completed course of vaccination will be able to board flights to the city and a hotel quarantine stay of at least 7 days must be booked. Arrivals must also hold a negative nucleic acid test. Additionally:

  • Arrivals will need to undergo a Covid-19 test at Hong Kong airport. If they test negative, they will proceed to their hotel.
  • All arrivals will undergo daily Rapid Antigen Tests (RAT) whilst in quarantine.
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) tests will be conducted on day five and day 12 of hotel quarantine. If the fifth day test is negative, and all RATs show negative results, then arrivals can choose to leave their quarantine hotel after seven days.
  • Those who are released early will have to self-monitor for the next seven days but will not be confined to a location. They will still have to take a PCR test on day 12 at a community testing facility.
  • Those who choose to remain at a hotel after the first seven days, and test negative through a PCR test on day 12, may leave after the 14 days are completed. However, anyone who receives a positive test – either RAT or PCR test – will be sent from their quarantine hotel to a designated isolation hotel.

Allowing residents to fly back from the nine countries facing a flight ban is “not a relaxation but a smoothing out of policy,” Lam said.

In-person classes

The current anti-epidemic measures were originally set to continue until April 20 but changes in the pandemic prompted a mid-term review, Lam said.

Chief Secretary John Lee, Chief Executive Carrie Lam and Finance Secretary Paul Chan
Chief Secretary John Lee, Chief Executive Carrie Lam and Finance Secretary Paul Chan. Photo: Peter Lee/HKFP.

Primary schools, international schools and kindergartens will be the first batch to reopen on April 19. Secondary schools will need to wait until the end of the DSE exams to resume face-to-face teaching. Students were not required to receive vaccines to enter schools but a high vaccination rate among students will provide “better terms” for learning activities, Lam said.

“In reality, Hong Kong experienced a perilous storm during the Covid-19 epidemic of the last four weeks,” Lam said. “What can give us a little assurance [now] is that a fast-rising epidemic is now obviously suppressed.”

Made with Flourish

As for citywide testing, Lam said the idea was temporarily suspended as there was a lot of common ground between Hong Kong and mainland experts who suggested it should be conducted at early or late stages of an outbreak.

Social distancing measures

If the number of infections continues to drop, the government will begin relaxing restrictions on social gatherings in three stages from April 21. The stages will unfold over the course of three months, Lam announced on Monday.

First stage, from April 21:

  • The social gathering limit will be raised from two to four people per group.
  • Dine-in services may continue until 10 p.m., with four people allowed at each table.
  • Bars will continue to be closed.
  • Premises listed under cap 599F, including beauty salons and gyms as well as Leisure and Cultural Services Department premises – including performing arts venues and museums – will reopen.
beach beaches mui wo covid covid-19
Government-managed beaches were closed again in March as part of tightened social distancing measures. Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

Second stage:

  • The social gathering limit will be raised to eight people per group.
  • Dine-in services may continue until 12 a.m., with a seating limit of eight per table.
  • Bars will reopen.
  • Beaches and government swimming pools will reopen.
  • Individuals will not be required to wear masks if they are in country parks or exercising outdoors.

Third stage:

Care kits

Government logistics were able to catch up with delivering Covid-19 care kits – which include rapid test kits, thermometers, oximeters and over-the-counter medication – to all patients reported to the Department of Health, Lam said. Rapid tests will be sent to all households, she added.

medic medical doctor A&E emergency ER caritas covid covid-19 queue
Caritas Medical Centre in Sham Shui Po, Hong Kong during the fifth-wave Covid-19 outbreak. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

It comes weeks after patients complained that they only received supplies from the government after they recovered from the sickness.

‘Isolated status’

Last week, Lam said she detected the tolerance of Hongkongers for strict social distancing measures was waning and that financial institutions were losing patience with the city’s “isolated status,” promising a review of existing measures.

The city last week recorded an average of 20,000 local infections every day, with just a handful of imported cases.

Carrie Lam Covid-19
Chief Executive Carrie Lam. File Photo: GovHK.

Hong Kong reported 14,149 new Covid-19 cases and 246 deaths on Sunday. It has recorded 1,047,690 cases and 5,894 Covid-related fatalities in all.

See also: Where did Hong Kong go wrong in its fight against Covid-19?

Chaotic scenes reminiscent of the early days of the pandemic in Wuhan and Italy have played out across Hong Kong’s public hospitals in recent weeks, as the city saw the highest death rate in the world.

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Selina Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist who previously worked with HK01, Quartz and AFP Beijing. She also covered the Umbrella Movement for AP and reported for a newspaper in France. Selina has studied investigative reporting at the Columbia Journalism School.