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Hong Kong eases strict coronavirus measures from April, lifts flight ban

Hong Kong eases strict coronavirus measures from April, lifts flight ban

HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong plans to ease some anti-Covid-19 measures next month, lift bans on flights from nine countries, reduce quarantines for overseas arrivals, and reopen schools.

The moves, which Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced on Monday, come after a backlash from businesses and residents who see the rest of the world turning to “live with the virus.”

Residents in China-controlled territories are becoming increasingly frustrated with the draconian measures, many of which have been in place for more than two years.

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The ban on flights from Australia, Britain, Canada, France, India, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines and the United States will be lifted from April 1.

“The flight ban is no longer appropriate and timely… It will bring great unrest to the Hong Kong people stranded in these nine countries if we continue with the ban,” Lam told a news briefing.

Lam said the hotel’s quarantine for arrivals could be cut to seven days from 14 if residents test negative. It had previously said that the measures would continue until April 20.

She said schools will resume face-to-face classes from April 19, after the Easter holiday, while public places including sports facilities will also open from April 21.

Hong Kong’s borders have been virtually closed since 2020 with few flights able to land and hardly any passengers allowed to cross, isolating a city that had built a reputation as a global financial hub.

Businesses and the city’s economy are suffering from widespread shutdowns, while doctors say many of the city’s 7.4 million residents are experiencing growing mental health issues, particularly among low-income families.

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The shift in Lam’s policy comes after her administration was repeatedly reprimanded by pro-Beijing politicians and media and on Chinese social media, just weeks before elections in the city are due on May 8 to choose who will lead the province for the next five years. .

She declined to comment on whether she would run for a new term.

exit strategy

It is not the time, Lam said, citing experts who said that a plan to conduct mass testing for the coronavirus would be put on hold. Experts said Hong Kong needs a clear exit strategy rather than trying to eradicate the virus completely.

While the former British colony has formally adhered to a policy of “dynamic zero” for the coronavirus, similar to mainland China, which seeks to limit all outbreaks, it has turned to mitigation strategies as the death toll rises.

Hong Kong has had the highest number of deaths per million people globally in recent weeks – more than 24 times compared to rival Singapore – due to a large proportion of elderly people who have not been vaccinated because the highly transmissible Omicron variant has been circulating in care homes since February.

The packed city has recorded more than a million infections since the pandemic began and nearly 5,000 deaths – most of them in the past month.

Up to 4 million people could be infected according to estimates by health experts as many residents have contracted the virus and are isolated at home without notifying the authorities.

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Lam said social distancing measures will be eased in phases from April 21, allowing the restaurant to eat after 6pm with tables for four from two people currently.

Nightclubs, bars and beaches will be allowed to open in the second phase while people will be allowed to exercise outdoors without a mask. Masks are currently mandatory everywhere outside the home.

Until this year, Hong Kong had been far more successful in controlling the coronavirus than many other cities of its size, but the latest wave of infections has flooded its global medical system, mortuaries are overflowing and public confidence in the city’s government is ever-low. Read more

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Additional reporting by Farah Master, Tweeny Siew, Jesse Pang, Anne Marie Rowntree and Queenie Garcia; Editing by Christopher Cushing and Simon Cameron Moore

Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.