HONG KONG (AP) – Hong Kong’s leader said Monday the city would lift flight bans on countries including Britain and the United States and reduce quarantine time for travelers arriving in the city as coronavirus infections amid recent outbreak plateaus.
City chief Carrie Lam announced during a news conference Monday that a flight ban from nine countries – Australia, Canada, France, India, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines, the UK and the US – would be lifted from April 1 . A flight ban has been in place in most of these countries since January as authorities attempted to contain the outbreak of the highly transmissible Omicron variant in Hong Kong.
Travelers entering the city can also quarantine in quarantine hotels for just seven days – versus 14 days – if they test negative for the virus on the sixth and seventh days of their quarantine. Such travelers must also be fully vaccinated and tested negative for the coronavirus before entering the city.
Lam also said plans for a citywide mass testing exercise, first announced in February, would be put on hold.
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“The experts are of the opinion that it is not appropriate for us to devote finite resources to the universal mass testing,” said Lam. “The SAR government will continue to monitor the situation. If the conditions are right, we will check whether we can carry out the obligatory universal test.”
The changes, announced on Monday, signal a shift in Hong Kong’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic as authorities sought to provide direction for Hong Kong businesses and residents after two years of sticking to China’s “zero-COVID” policy mainland aligned.
Lam said the changes are part of an interim review of the city’s actions and that various stakeholders in the city would be consulted on longer-term roadmaps related to public health and economic development.
“We need to listen more closely to the experts both on the ground and on the mainland,” Lam said.
“For any longer-term public health strategy, we must consider both factors that maintain Hong Kong’s accessibility to the mainland and also ensure Hong Kong’s continued connectivity to the outside world.”
On Monday, Lam also announced that social distancing measures will remain in place, although they will be gradually lifted from April 21 if infections do not increase, Lam said. The ban on eating after 6 p.m. will be lifted and public gatherings will be limited from two to four people.
Other businesses that have been forced to close temporarily, such as gyms and massage parlors, are also 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 was reporting over 50,000 cases daily and has reported over 1 million infections and nearly 5,700 deaths since the current outbreak began late last year.
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