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HK to relax flight ban and quarantine, social distancing to ease in 3 phases

HK to relax flight ban and quarantine, social distancing to ease in 3 phases

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Hong Kong will lift a ban on flights from nine countries on 1 April but passengers still need to fulfil certain conditions to enter the city, including having a valid booking at a quarantine hotel. Chief executive Carrie Lam said on the daily press conference that a ban on flights from nine countries, including Australia, Canada, France, India, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines, the UK and the US, will be scrapped from 1 April. However, several conditions still apply. Passengers need to be fully vaccinated, tested negative for the virus no more than 48 hours before boarding. They should have a valid booking at a quarantine hotel too

The quarantine period for passengers arriving from overseas countries will also be shortened to seven days from 14 days if they have negative rapid test results on the sixth and seventh days. The flight ban was introduced on 8 January due to the spread of Omicron variants. Anyone who has been to these countries in the past 14 days is also not allowed to board a flight to the city.

In addition to the flight ban, Lam also announced that social-distancing rules will be relaxed in three phases starting from 21 April. In the first phase, many types of operations will be allowed to reopen, including gyms, religious places, and sports venues. Groups will be capped at four people. Restaurants will be allowed to offer dine-in service until 10pm with four diners allowed per table. Currently, restaurants can only offer dine-in services until 6pm, with two people per table.

Groups of up to four people, instead of two people now, will also be allowed to gather in public. A ban on private gatherings of three or more households will also be cancelled. In the second phase, all businesses that are forced to close now amid the fifth wave of the pandemic, including bars and pubs, party rooms, and swimming pools, will be allowed to reopen. The cap on groups in restaurants and other establishments will be inreased to eight people, dine-in services will be extended to midnight, and mask exemptions will be implemented for outdoor activities. Bars and pubs will be allowed to remain open until midnight or 2am, with a four-people cap at tables. In the final phase, all caps in restaurants and bars will be lifted. The operating hours will be further extended.

The news comes shortly after Hong Kong's financial chief Paul Chan said last week the Hong Kong Sevens will take place in November 2022, and the government is planning to host business leaders in the city to rebuild Hong Kong's reputation as an international business hub during the sporting event.

The event looks to bring more than 100 finance leaders to Hong Kong as a way to rebuild the city's damaged reputation as an international business hub. Chan said that after more than two years of travel restrictions, it will be important for Hong Kong to reconnect with the international community. He added that the Hong Kong government's plan to bring business leaders to the city is aimed at allowing them to see the situation and bring about business and investment opportunities. Chan added that travel between Hong Kong and mainland China could resume in the second half of this year.

 Businesses battered

To date many industries in Hong Kong have been badly battered due to COVID-19 restrictions. In the world of fitness, Fitness First Hong Kong began its liquidation process and the company said, the prolonged challenges in not being able to operate its fitness centres have led the team down this path. The company added that over the past months, its management team, alongside its parent company and shareholders, had explored and exhausted all avenues in the pursuit of maintaining business operations.

On the tourism front, last week Hong Kong's iconic tourist attraction the Star Ferry said it has been losing money since mid-2019 and it now needs to borrow money to handle the cost of daily operations, as its revenue can no longer cover the salaries of employees.

Meanwhile, last month Genting Hong Kong subsidiary Dream Cruises also ceased operations. The damage went well beyond Hong Kong as the company dismissed at least 60 employees in Singapore, with many of them being Singaporeans and permanent residents. The layoffs at Genting Hong Kong reportedly began in January, and were done in phases.

In an earlier study done by American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham), it was found that travel restrictions in Hong Kong are pushing away as more than half of respondents said they would leave the city, while the majority of businesses felt the government was “unconcerned” or “dismissive” about business concerns. In its 2022 Business Sentiment Survey Report, 53% of respondents said the restrictions related to the pandemic had spurred them to leave Hong Kong. Only 10% of them said they were "less unlikely" and "much less likely" to leave the city.

Hong Kong’s international travel restrictions to contain COVID-19 weighed heavily on both company and personal sentiment.

With six out of 10 businesses based in Hong Kong as part of the global or regional headquarters, hefty quarantine rules and travel restrictions continued are said to be creating “significant disruptions” in offices outside Hong Kong. Over 30% of respondents had to delay new investments in Hong Kong, and 30% struggled to fill senior executive roles.

Travel restrictions also weighed heavily on sentiment about living in Hong Kong, from both a company and personal perspective. Over 40% were more likely to leave the city from a personal perspective, and over 25% of companies said they were more likely to leave Hong Kong.

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