HONG KONG — Hong Kong’s chief said on Monday the city would lift flight bans on countries like Britain and the United States, as well as reduce quarantine time for travelers arriving in the city as the coronavirus infections in its latest outbreak plateaus.
The city’s chief executive, Carrie Lam, announced at a press conference on Monday that the ban on flights from nine countries – Australia, Canada, France, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, Britain and United States – would be lifted from April 1. A flight ban from most of these countries has been in place since January, as authorities sought to stem the outbreak of the highly transmissible omicron variant in Hong Kong.
Travelers entering the city can also quarantine for as little as seven days in quarantine hotels – up from 14 days – if they test negative for the virus on days six and seven of their quarantine. These travelers must also be fully vaccinated and tested negative for the coronavirus before entering the city.
Lam also said plans for a citywide mass testing exercise, first announced in February, would be put on hold.
“Experts are of the view that it is not appropriate for us to devote limited resources to universal mass testing,” Lam said. “The SAR government will continue to monitor the situation. When the conditions are right, we will consider whether we will implement mandatory universal testing.”
The changes announced on Monday signal a shift in Hong Kong’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, as authorities seek to provide direction for Hong Kong businesses and its residents after two years of alignment with the “zero COVID” policy. from mainland China.
Lam said the changes are part of an interim review of the city’s measures and that various city stakeholders will be consulted on any longer-term roadmap for public health and economic development.
“We need to listen more carefully to experts, both local and from the mainland,” Lam said.
“For any longer-term public health strategy, we will need to consider both the factors that maintain Hong Kong’s accessibility to the mainland and also ensure its continued connectivity to the outside world.”
On Monday, Lam also announced that social distancing measures would remain in place, although they will be lifted in stages from April 21 if infections do not increase, Lam said. The ban on dining after 6 p.m. will be lifted and public gatherings will be limited to four people, down from two.
Other businesses that have been ordered to close temporarily, such as gyms and massage parlours, will also be allowed to reopen.
Hong Kong reported 14,145 infections on Sunday, the lowest in more than three weeks. At the height of its outbreak, the city reported more than 50,000 cases a day and has reported more than a million infections and nearly 5,700 deaths since the current outbreak began at the end of the year. last.