Hong Kong authorities on Wednesday asked Japan to remove restrictions on direct flights from the city, which were imposed following the explosion of coronavirus cases in mainland China.

The city deployed similar curbs during its own fight against Covid, including rapid bans on airlines for carrying virus-positive passengers and travel restrictions for nations with major outbreaks.

Hong Kong International Airport Cathay plane flight
Hong Kong International Airport. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

Japan became one of the first countries to impose China-specific travel restrictions this week as infections surged across the mainland following the dismantling of Beijing’s zero-Covid strategy.

They include restricting direct flights from Hong Kong to four airports — Tokyo’s Narita and Haneda, Kansai in Osaka and Nagoya’s Chubu.

Hong Kong’s transport department said Wednesday it was “greatly disappointed by Japanese authorities’ hasty decision during the peak tourist season”.

The department said it had contacted the Japanese consulate in Hong Kong to “solemnly request” a reversal of the decision — which takes effect from Friday.

It added that the affected airlines have been told they can still fly empty planes to the restricted airports to pick up any stranded passengers in the coming days.

Tokyo Tower Japan
Tokyo Tower, in Japan’s capital. Photo: Perry Li, via Flickr.

From Friday, Japan will also require on-arrival virus tests for passengers from China, but that will not apply to travellers from Hong Kong and Macau.

Hong Kong had followed a version of China’s zero-Covid policy and imposed some of the strictest travel curbs in the world during the pandemic, which left the business hub isolated for more than two years.

The city only began lifting restrictions recently, ending mandatory hotel quarantine for all arrivals in September.

Since then, travel has surged as Hong Kongers clamour to take holidays and visit loved ones overseas.

Japan, which lifted its own ban on foreign arrivals in October, has also seen a major spike in travel.

In May this year, just 700 Hong Kong arrivals were recorded at airports in Japan. By November, that number leapt to 83,000.

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