Hong Kong’s controversial Covid rule is ruining its aviation hub status

The government recently allowed flights from nine countries, including Australia, the UK and US, to resume after bans lasting two to three months, but airlines continue to struggle with the city’s strict “zero Covid” policy. Authorities this week temporarily banned flights again from India, Pakistan and the Philippines.

On Wednesday, 11 flight routes from 10 airlines were temporarily cut, including those to London and Amsterdam, the government said in a statement.

The latest disruption is linked to a controversial regulation that requires routes to be suspended for seven days if three or more passengers on an inbound flight test positive for Covid-19 or have insufficient health documentation.

Carriers affected are Cathay Pacific, Singapore Airlines, Ethiopian Airlines, Qatar Airways, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, Air India, Turkish Airlines, Malaysia Airlines, All Nippon Airways and regional airline Scoot, according to Hong Kong officials.

Cathay will only fly 2% of normal passenger capacity as Hong Kong remains isolated.
In recent months, the rise of the Omicron variant has caused this rule to be repeatedly activated, causing many flights to the city to be canceled and chaos for travelers across the world. So far this month, 21 routes have been suspended because of the rule, according to a CNN count.

Joanne Townson, who has lived in Hong Kong for more than 25 years, said she has had at least six flights to the city canceled in the last 16 months for a variety of reasons, including regulation.

She said Hong Kong’s flight bans and quarantine restrictions had recently prompted her to resign “from a job I loved” and fly to Europe because she hadn’t been able to see her daughters in 18 months.

The flight suspension rule is overturning Hong Kong’s position as a major aviation hub, which was already in question as the city faced the impact of its strict quarantine measures. Before the global health crisis, the city was home to one of the busiest airports in the world.

The latest effects of the restrictions were clearly seen on Tuesday, when only a single flight arrived in the city from outside the Asia-Pacific region, according to Hong Kong International Airport. The flight was operated by Emirates and came from Dubai.

‘Off the map’

“The restrictions were very severe and directly led to the cancellation of many services, with airlines finding it incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to operate there,” said Willie Walsh, director general of the International Air Transport Association. at a press conference earlier this month.

Walsh added that Hong Kong’s status as an international hub had “slipped”, leaving it “effectively off the map now”.

“I think it will be difficult for Hong Kong to recover,” he said.

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Frederik Gollob, president of the European Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong, told CNN Business that the airport used to be one of the city’s biggest advantages.

In addition to the city’s quarantine rules, flight suspensions are one of the “biggest” concerns of the international business community, he added. Currently, most travelers are required to stay in hotel rooms for seven days at their own expense, below a previous mandate of isolation for up to three weeks.

Townson, a Hong Kong resident, said her family will soon be quarantined. if a scheduled Cathay Pacific flight from Paris to Hong Kong next month goes as planned.

“I’m praying that the flight will fly and don’t believe we’re on our way to takeoff,” she said.

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