The Hong Kong government has halted its much-criticised Covid-19 flight suspension mechanism, after the total number of flight bans issued this year surpassed 100.

In a statement issued on Thursday, the Hong Kong government said it would suspend its policy of imposing a five-day flight route ban if at least five passengers – or five per cent of travellers, whichever is higher – test positive for Covid-19 upon arrival.

airport covid
Hong Kong airport during Covid-19 restrictions in May, 2022. File photo: Tania Chan/HKFP.

Arrivals will still need to show evidence of vaccination, book a quarantine hotel for seven days, undergo daily rapid tests, as well as undergo six PCR tests over a 14-day period. Many quarantine hotels are already fully booked for the summer.

The move – effective immediately – comes after the government reviewed data and considered that it is the peak season for returning overseas students, a statement said.

“July and August have always been the peak for Hongkongers abroad, especially overseas students, to return to Hong Kong,” the spokesperson said. “The flight suspension mechanism creates a relatively high social cost, and brings unnecessary trouble to these students and their families.”

The government said that local health authorities were able to detect most imported cases by requiring arrivals to conduct PCR tests at the airport and in the designated quarantine hotels. The risk brought by imported cases to the local epidemic situation was also said to be “relatively low,” and continuing the flight suspension mechanism would have “little benefit” in putting a stop to imported infections, the government said.

Starting on Friday, Hong Kong will also require incoming travellers to conduct an extra PCR test on the third day of their arrival as they undergo quarantine in a designated hotel. The government said such a move could help health officials discover Covid-19 patients as soon as possible and stop imported cases from reaching the community.

Quarantine rules in review

On Monday, local health authorities confirmed that three more flights had triggered Hong Kong’s Covid flight suspension system, pushing the total number of flight bans imposed this year to 100.

The original purpose of the mechanism was to prevent importing Covid-19 infections from individual high-risk areas within a short time period, the government said on Thursday. Flights currently banned from flying are now allowed to resume their service, the authorities added.

On Tuesday, Hong Kong’s new leader John Lee has said his administration will not “lie flat” or allow Covid-19 to spread freely, but quarantine rules for arrivals were under review.

Hong Kong registered 2,815 new Covid-19 infections on Wednesday, of which 143 were imported. The city also reported one new death. In all, the city has seen over 1.25 million infections and 9,405 deaths.

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Kelly Ho

Kelly Ho has an interest in local politics, education and sports. She formerly worked at South China Morning Post Young Post, where she specialised in reporting on issues related to Hong Kong youth. She has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, with a second major in Politics and Public Administration.