By Shirley Lau
Hong Kong, Mar 21 (EFE).- Hong Kong will start to ease its anti-Covid restrictions next month, its chief executive announced Monday, as its fifth wave of Covid infections showed signs of abating.
From Apr. 1, flights from countries including the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and France will be allowed into Hong Kong, and travelers arriving in the city will be required to quarantine in a hotel for seven days instead of two weeks.
Announcing the measures, Chief Executive Carrie Lam said Hong Kong “has passed a severe peak” although case numbers remained high.
She said the flight ban, implemented for eight countries in January and a ninth in February, was now an “out-of-date” measure and admitted that the hotel quarantine rules had affected Hong Kong’s business environment.
The relaxation of the travel restrictions is part of a review of Lam’s administration on its Covid-19 policy, as the fifth wave of Omicron-induced infections shows signs of slowing following a dramatic surge in local cases and deaths.
It was also announced that social distancing rules will be loosened gradually in three phases starting from Apr. 21. They include the reopening of private and public operations, such as gyms, sports venues and museums. Local schools will resume face-to-face classes from Apr. 19.
Over the last two years, Hong Kong has been implementing some of the strictest Covid travel restrictions in the world. Frustrated by the rules and the government’s insistence on adhering to China’s zero-case policy, many foreign companies have relocated their operations or staff elsewhere, and a growing number of residents have left, permanently or temporarily.
The exodus worsened recently as the authorities ramped up restrictions in January in response to the fifth wave.
To date, Hong Kong has recorded more than 1 million positive cases, about 97 percent of which were logged during the fifth wave that began around January. A total of 5,683 people have died with or because of Covid-19. EFE