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British Airways suspends all flights with Hong Kong

British Airways has cancelled all flights between Britain and Hong Kong (image courtesy Unsplash).

British Airways announced on Saturday (November 27) that it is temporarily suspending all flights between Britain and Hong Kong.

The news follows the decision by the Hong Kong government to send a second BA crew into government quarantine at the notorious Penny’s Bay facility on Lantau Island.

The South China Morning Post reported that the British flag carrier took the decision to suspend passenger flights in both directions indefinitely after a crew member tested positive at Hong Kong Airport this weekend. It’s alleged that Hong Kong health officials refused to let the crew return to the United Kingdom on an empty flight in place of interment at Penny’s Bay.

Last week another BA crew was detained in Penny’s Bay when a crew member tested positive on November 20. The crew involved in this case have since returned to the UK.

BA was to operate daily flights throughout December but instead cancelled Saturday evening’s flight, causing chaos at Heathrow Airport. This was the last weekend Hong Kong residents could travel home and hope to be out of quarantine in time for Christmas. Passengers were left scrambling to book tickets on Virgin Atlantic’s late evening flight from Heathrow’s T3.

British Airways blamed Saturday’s cancellation on ‘operation constraints’ and offered to pay for passengers’ ‘reasonable essentials’, such as food.

Adding to the chaos is the discovery of a further, potentially more transmissible Covid variant which was yesterday upgraded to a ‘variant of concern’ by the World Health Organisation and given the moniker ‘omicron’. Earlier this year the WHO announced that new variants would be named after the Greek alphabet rather than the place in which they were detected. The choice of omicron skips Nu and Xi, the latter perhaps for obvious reasons.

Omicron was first detected in Botswana on November 11 and has so far been identified in South Africa, Israel, the Netherlands, Germany, the Czech Republic, Hong Kong, Belgium and the UK. Scientists are now trying to ascertain whether it has the potential to evade the vaccines currently in use.

The world has been quick to respond, with nations including the UK, US, Australia and the EU all suspending travel from South Africa and surrounding countries. Hong Kong has meanwhile announced that arrivals from countries in southern Africa and South Africa will spend their first seven days at Penny’s Bay, followed by 14 nights in a quarantine hotel.

The UK has also tightened its entry restrictions; ten countries have now been added to the reactivated red list and all arrivals must take a PCR test and isolate until the result is known. Arrival testing requirements had only recently been downgraded to a lateral flow test.

Switzerland, meanwhile, has reimposed quarantine measures on arrivals from Hong Kong.

According to the UK’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty in a Downing Street briefing that took place on Saturday evening UK-time, omicron is spreading rapidly in many areas and “there is a reasonable chance there will be some degree of vaccine escape with this variant”.

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