Hong Kong to lift ban on flights from nine countries in April

HONG KONG (AFP): Hong Kong will resume international flights from nine countries including the United States and Britain in April, city leader Carrie Lam said Monday.

After the highly transmissible Omicron variant emerged in January, authorities quickly put in place flight bans from eight countries deemed high-risk — including the United States, Britain, France and India — and in February added a ninth, Nepal.

But infections climbed rapidly within the finance hub despite tightening social distancing measures, and in three months Hong Kong recorded more than a million cases and 5,600 deaths.

On Monday, Lam said starting April 1, Hong kong lift remove flight bans — known as a “circuit breaker” — for the nine countries.

“The circuit-breaker … is inopportune now,” she said during a press conference.

“The epidemic situations in those countries are not worse than Hong Kong’s, and most arrivals did not have serious symptoms. To extend the circuit-breaker will add to concerns and anxieties of Hong Kong residents stranded there.”

Lam’s administration has been pummelled for its handling of the Covid crisis, for putting out unclear messages about proposed mass testing and lockdown measures.

Fear of being caught in a sudden lockdown fuelled panic — causing residents to strip supermarket shelves bare — and led to a record high exodus of both foreign and local residents.

By mid-March, Hong Kong recorded a net outflow of more than 134,000 people leaving the city.