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Hong Kong eases coronavirus rules for aircrews

Hong Kong will shorten mandatory hotel quarantine for passenger flight crews to three days from seven, while cargo crews will be exempt, modest steps at unwinding coronavirus curbs that have turned the city into one of the world’s most isolated places.

The changes, which take effect in May, give the global financial hub’s aviation trade and logistics industries “much needed survival space”, the government said in a statement on Friday.

Hong Kong said it was also lifting an outbound travel alert on overseas countries from May, more than two years after it was first implemented in March 2020.

“The epidemic situations in overseas countries/territories with frequent traffic with Hong Kong have generally been on a downward trend…The risk of travelling overseas has lowered relatively,” the government said in a separate statement.

Hong Kong has some of the world’s strictest coronavirus rules. Non-residents will be allowed to enter the city for the first time in more than two years from May, the government announced on April 22.

It has also slightly adjusted rules for airlines that carry infected coronavirus patients, 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 seven from May.

The densely packed territory, a former British colony which returned to Chinese rule in 1997, has had its borders essentially 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.

Hong Kong’s restrictions have frustrated many residents, with much of the world already managing to live with the virus, thanks to high vaccination levels.

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 has followed mainland China in implementing a “dynamic zero” coronavirus policy which aims to curb all outbreaks. However, the restrictions have dampened its financial centre allure as rivals like Singapore relax most measures.

Daily infections have dropped below 1,000 in the past two weeks from a peak of more than 70,000 on March 3.