Hong Kong has suspended a pandemic rule that can result in individual airlines being banned from flying to the territory if they transport someone who later tests positive for COVID-19.
In a statement announcing the change, a spokesperson for the Hong Kong government admitted that the flight bans have had a high “social cost” and that suspending the mechanism would allow thousands of international students to return to Hong Kong without fear that their flight could be grounded at the last minute.
In fact, the Hong Kong government suggested that the rule suspension was being made primarily to facilitate the return of young Hong Kong adults from wealthy families who have had the ability to travel and study abroad during the pandemic.
The flight ban mechanism was introduced early in the pandemic back in 2020 and was originally designed to stop airlines from ‘importing’ a large number of passengers infected with COVID-19.
Flight bans apply to specific routes once a trigger number of positive tests within a set time period is met. Airlines can also be barred for failing to check passenger paperwork correctly and other pandemic rule infractions.
Because the bans apply to individual routes, international airlines based outside of Hong Kong are most affected by flight suspensions. Home town airline Cathay Pacific has received the most flight bans but was able to operate other routes during those times, whereas the likes of Emirates and Qatar Airways.
Until today, flight bans lasted for five days but for a long time, airlines could find themselves barred from operating flights for two weeks at a time. Flight bans were generally announced with little to no notice, upending the travel plans of people trying to return to Hong Kong.
The reason the bans caused so much disruption was because passengers had to marry up flight plans with quarantine hotel arrangements on their arrival – but of which were in short supply.
The newly appointed Hong Kong government said it was able to ‘suspend’ the flight ban policy because mandatory hotel quarantine for nearly all incoming international passengers was effective had detecting COVID-19 without cases escaping into the community.
Along with being required to quarantine for seven days in a hotel room, passengers must take a daily rapid antigen test during quarantine and submit themselves to at least six PCR tests over 12-days.
The John Lee administration shows no sign of dropping hotel quarantine.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.