HONG KONG: Hong Kong will allow non residents to enter the financial hub from May for the first time in more than two years, a small step in unwinding stringent coronavirus restrictions which have turned the city into one of the world's most isolated places.
Hong Kong's rules for airlines that carry infected COVID-19 patients will also be eased slightly, the government said in a statement on Friday, with the threshold for suspending incoming flights rising to five infected passengers from three currently.
A ban on individual airline routes will be shortened to five days from 7.
Foreign travellers will be subject to the same procedure as residents, the government said.
The announcement comes with daily infections under 1000 for more than a week from a peak of more than 70,000 on March 3.
Hong Kong's borders have essentially been closed since early 2020 with very few flights and weeks long quarantine for arrivals.
Most flights currently landing in Hong Kong, which prides itself as the east-meets-west gateway, are from mainland China and a few other Asian cities.
Eleven flight routes were banned this week from airlines including Cathay Pacific, Emirates, Qantas, and KLM, according to government records. There have been more than 70 flight bans so far this year.
The former British colony lifted a ban on flights arriving from nine countries including the U.S. and Britain on April 1 and cut quarantine for residents to seven days from 14, but the still stringent criteria mean that few flights can operate in what was once one of the world's busiest transit hubs.
Hong Kong has followed mainland China in implementing a "dynamic zero" coronavirus policy which aims to curb all outbreaks.
Thousands of residents trying to return to Hong Kong have been impacted by last minute cancellations, leaving them scrambling to find alternative routes while ensuring they can secure their quarantine hotel room amid tight supply.
Hong Kong reopened gyms, beauty parlours, theme parks and cinemas on Thursday for the first time in more than four months.