Hong Kong’s leader has said the city will lift flight bans on countries including Britain and the US as well as reduce quarantine time for travellers as coronavirus infections in its latest outbreak plateau.
Chief executive Carrie Lam announced during a press conference on Monday that a ban on flights from nine countries — Australia, Canada, France, India, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines, Britain and the US — would be lifted from April 1.
A flight ban on 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.
Travellers entering the city can also quarantine for seven days in quarantine hotels — down from 14 days — if they test negative for the virus on the sixth and seventh days of their quarantine.
Such travellers must also be fully vaccinated and test negative for the coronavirus before entering the city.
Ms Lam also said that plans for a city-wide mass-testing exercise, which was first announced in February, would be suspended.
“The experts are of the opinion that it’s not appropriate for us to devote finite resources to the universal mass-testing,” Ms Lam said.
“The SAR government will continue to monitor the situation. When the conditions are right, we will consider whether we will be implementing the compulsory universal testing.”
The changes announced on Monday signal a shift in Hong Kong’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, as authorities sought to provide a direction for Hong Kong businesses and its residents after two years of aligning with mainland China’s “zero Covid” policy.
Ms Lam said that the changes come as part of an interim review of the city’s measures, and that various stakeholders in the city will be consulted for any longer-term road maps when it comes to public health and economic development.
“We have to listen more carefully to the experts, both locally and from the mainland,” said Ms Lam.
“For any longer-term public health strategy, we will have to take into account both factors that is maintaining Hong Kong’s accessibility to the mainland, and also ensuring her continued connectivity with the outside world.”
On Monday, Ms Lam also announced that social distancing measures will stay in place, although they will be lifted in stages from April 21 if infections do not surge.
A ban on dining in after 6pm will be lifted and public gatherings will be capped at four people, up from two.
Other businesses that were ordered to shutter temporarily, such as gyms and massage parlours, will also be allowed to reopen.
Hong Kong reported 14,145 infections on Sunday, the lowest in over three weeks.
At the peak of its outbreak, the city reported over 50,000 cases daily, and has reported over 1 million infections and nearly 5,700 deaths since the current outbreak began at the end of last year.