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Hong Kong opens to non-residents

A plane overflying Hong Kong - or a figment of your imagination?

In a surprise announcement this month, Hong Kong says it will allow entry to non-residents from next month.

The move signals the financial hub beginning to ease its draconian pandemic travel regulations which have been in place for nearly two years. The territory, once dubbed ‘Asia’s World City’, has maintained some of the strictest entrance rules in the world, including a mammoth 21-day hotel quarantine for much of the pandemic. This was eased to a seven-day hotel isolation earlier this year following lobbying from business groups.

However, despite the slow loosening of restrictions, one of the most controversial restrictions, the flight suspension mechanism, will remain in place. The mechanism is triggered when a flight brings in passengers infected with omicron or passengers who have not completed entrance documentation adequately. The affected flight route is then suspended for a set period of time.

In April alone, more than 20 flight routes were suspended, causing chaos for incoming residents. Unofficial flag carrier Cathay Pacific operated just a handful of flights with major world cities.

The government has announced that it has now eased this measure, meaning the suspension will now come into effect if five passengers test positive on arrival, up from the previous three. The flight route will also be suspended for five days, down from seven days and, previously to that, 14 days. However, it is unlikely these minimal changes will ease life for those wanting to enter Hong Kong.

And it’s unlikely many non-residents jump at the chance to travel to Hong Kong given the unpredictability of flights taking off, as well as all arrivals being subject to a seven-day hotel quarantine at their own expense. The easing is expected to mainly benefit family members hoping to reunite with loved ones in Hong Kong.

Airlines and residents have been frustrated for months by the flight suspension rules, which have meant flights being cancelled at very short notice. Emirates, Singapore Airlines, Qatar Airways and Cathay Pacific are just some of the world’s largest airlines who have been caught up with the flight suspensions. Certain airlines, including British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, Swiss International Airlines and Lufthansa, have cancelled services with Hong Kong altogether until the situation improves. Flight suspensions combined with strict quarantine rules for air crew have compounded the problem and made Hong Kong a no-go area for many airlines.

Hong Kong’s current chief executive, Carrie Lam, stands down in July when uncontested candidate John Lee takes over the top spot. It remains to be seen whether he will continue to ease travel restrictions and finally open Hong Kong back up to the world.

In contrast, Hong Kong’s rival ‘hub’, Singapore, axed all testing for incoming travellers this week.

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