Flight Bans Leave Hong Kong Stranded as New Rules Freeze Routes
(Bloomberg) -- New travel rules to curb the spread of omicron in Hong Kong look set to isolate the Asian financial hub even further, with at least four international carriers banned from operating certain routes in the month since the more transmissible variant emerged.
Although Hong Kong was already hewing to the Covid-zero policy being pursued by China, authorities tightened rules again this week, mandating that if four or more passengers are confirmed to have Covid-19 on arrival from the same place within seven days, that route will be suspended for 14 days.
Qatar Airways and Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd. have had routes from Doha and New York, respectively, put on hold until early January, while Nepal Airlines Corp. and Air India Ltd. flights between Hong Kong and Kathmandu and Delhi have also been impacted.
Hong Kong found its first omicron cases on Nov. 25. The highly-contagious variant is now the most dominant strain in several major cities around the world, making the chance of identifying more cases upon arrival at airports significantly higher.
A cleaner at the airport was Friday suspected to have been infected with omicron, in what could be the city’s first case in someone who hasn’t recently traveled. Hong Kong has confirmed 34 omicron cases to date, all people with a prior travel history and most were detected upon arrival or in quarantine.
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Cathay warned of several more flight cancellations on Wednesday, just days after its services from New York were suspended until Jan. 2 after three passengers on that route were found to have Covid. The chief executive officer of Qatar Airways said recently Hong Kong’s Covid policy was “killing” the airline.
Even before Covid, Cathay was battered by the political fallout from 2019’s anti-government protests. Now, China’s strict Covid-Zero policy ensures most international travel remains suspended. The airline flew just 70,047 passengers in November, down 97% from the same month in 2019.
Apart from flight suspensions due to Covid cases on board, Hong Kong’s strict quarantine rules for crew are deterring carriers.
Last week, British Airways put flights to Hong Kong on hold until March, after airline crews were forced to isolate in a government facility with no Wi-Fi. Deutsche Lufthansa AG unit Swiss International Air Lines AG is among other carriers that have likewise adjusted their schedules due to Hong Kong’s tough Covid stance.
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