14 Jan 2022, 18:20

Hong Kong airport bans transit passengers from most of world

HONG KONG, Jan 14, 2022 (BSS/AFP) - Hong Kong announced a ban on passengers
from most of the world transiting through its airport on Friday as China
ramps up strict anti-virus travel measures ahead of the Beijing Winter

   The move deepens Hong Kong's global isolation and comes as Beijing battles
to stamp out 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 harshest
measures throughout the pandemic -- including weeks-long quarantines,
targeted lockdowns and mass testing.

   The Chinese business hub ranks territories into categories based on how
widespread their Covid-19 infections are, with 153 countries currently
classified as Group A -- from which arrivals must spend 21 days in

   Hong Kong's airport, in normal times one of the world's busiest aviation
hubs, said arrivals who have spent time in any of those 153 countries in the
previous three weeks will be banned from transiting from Sunday.

   Arrivals from eight Group A countries -- Australia, Canada, France, India,
the Philippines, Pakistan, Britain and the United States -- are already
banned entirely.

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

   It has reimposed strict social distancing rules, including closing gyms
and halting restaurant dining after 6pm, and has said Cathay Pacific might
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 home city.

   Other airlines have dramatically scaled back routes to Hong Kong or
started avoiding it altogether because of the quarantine rules.

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

   " I think no one can give you a definite timeline" for lifting
restrictions on international borders this year, he told the newspaper.

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

   - China flare-ups -

   It is not clear whether the transit suspension will impact the Winter
Olympics in Beijing, with many athletes and officials expected to travel to
China via Hong Kong in the coming days ahead of next month's opening of the

   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 listed no exemptions for
Olympic delegates and a spokesperson did not immediately reply to a request
for clarity.

   Mainland China is battling its own coronavirus outbreaks in several
cities, testing the "zero-Covid" strategy just weeks ahead of the Games,
which will be held in a bubble that seals all participants off from the wider

   About 13 million people in the historic city of Xi'an were sent into
lockdown last month after the Delta variant was detected silently spreading.

   On Thursday officials said some sections of the city could be deemed
lower-risk, suggesting the outbreak there might be easing.

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

   Multiple rounds of mass testing have been rolled out across the city as
well as partial lockdowns, with car giants such as Toyota and Volkswagen
having to halt production.

   From Tianjin, Omicron has spread to the city of Anyang, population 5.5
million, which was sent into lockdown along with Dalian, another key port

   China's financial centre Shanghai and tech hub Shenzhen have also reported



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