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Hong Kong airport bans transit passengers from most of world

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Hong Kong airport bans transit passengers from most of world

Hong Kong on Friday announced a ban on passengers from most of the world transiting through its airport, as China steps up strict anti-virus travel measures ahead of the Beijing Winter Olympics.

The move deepens Hong Kong’s global isolation and comes as Beijing struggles to quell a flurry of Delta and Omicron outbreaks in the only major economy still pursuing a staunch zero-Covid strategy.

Like mainland China, Hong Kong has maintained some of the world’s toughest measures during the pandemic, including weeks-long quarantines, targeted lockdowns and mass testing.

The Chinese business hub classifies territories into categories based on the extent of their Covid-19 infections, with 153 countries currently classified as Group A, from which arrivals must spend 21 days in quarantine.

Hong Kong airport, in normal times one of the world’s busiest aviation hubs, said arrivals that have spent time in any of those 153 countries in the previous three weeks will not be able to transit from Sunday.

Arrivals from eight Group A countries (Australia, Canada, France, India, the Philippines, Pakistan, Great Britain and the United States) are already totally prohibited.

The city is battling a small outbreak of the Omicron variant that began with the return of Cathay Pacific flight crew who violated home quarantine rules.

He has reimposed strict social distancing rules, including closing gyms and halting restaurant meals after 6 p.m., and has said Cathay Pacific could face legal action.

Cathay Pacific is already flying only a fraction of its pre-pandemic routes and many of its long-haul flights transit through its hometown.

Other airlines have drastically reduced routes to Hong Kong or started avoiding them altogether due to quarantine rules.

But the global fight to contain the hyper-contagious Omicron variant has only reinforced the territory’s resolve to stick to its zero-Covid strategy, Edward Yau, Hong Kong’s secretary for trade and economic development, said in an interview with the Financial Times.

“I don’t think anyone can give you a definitive timetable” for lifting international border restrictions this year, he told the newspaper.

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam announced late Friday that anti-Covid measures would be extended for two weeks until after the Lunar New Year, canceling fairs and muting a typically boisterous event marked by large family gatherings and raucous celebrations.

– Outbursts in China: It is unclear whether the traffic suspension will affect the Winter Olympics in Beijing, with many athletes and officials expected to travel to China via Hong Kong in the coming days ahead of the Games opening on next month.

The suspension was first reported by Bloomberg News this week citing sources who said it would not apply to diplomats, officials and athletes heading to the Olympics.

But the Hong Kong airport statement on Friday did not list exemptions for Olympic delegates and a spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for clarity.

Mainland China is battling its own coronavirus outbreaks in several cities, trying out the “zero-Covid” strategy just weeks before the Games, which will be held in a bubble that isolates all participants from the general population.

About 13 million people in the historic city of Xi’an were locked down last month after the silent spread of the Delta variant was detected.

On Thursday, officials said some sections of the city could be considered lower risk, suggesting the outbreak may be slowing.

But the Omicron variant has also been detected, initially in the port city of Tianjin, which is close to both Beijing and the Olympic venues.

Multiple rounds of mass testing have taken place across the city, as well as partial closures, with auto giants such as Toyota and Volkswagen having to halt production.

From Tianjin, Omicron has spread to the city of Anyang, with a population of 5.5 million, which was blockaded along with Dalian, another key port city.

China’s financial hub Shanghai and technology hub Shenzhen have also reported cases.

Source Credit: TheGuardian

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