The month-long travel restrictions will apply to no less than 153 countries and territories.
Hong Kong’s airport authority has confirmed that air travelers from much of the world will be barred from catching a connecting flight via the city starting on Sunday. “Passenger transfer/transit services via Hong Kong International Airport for any persons who have stayed in Group A specified place(s) in the past 21 days will be suspended,” it said in a statement. The new measures will last for a month from January 16 until February 15. Earlier this week, Bloomberg broke the news of an imminent ban on all transit passengers from the more than 150 high-risk or “Group A” places.
People with knowledge of the plan added that airport officials had recently briefed airlines about it, and said the only exemptions would be for diplomats, government officials, athletes and staff participating in the Beijing Winter Olympics, which will open on February 4. Eight high-risk countries are already subject to passenger flight bans that have now been extended until the 4th: Australia, Canada, France, India, the Philippines, Pakistan, the United Kingdom, and the United States. This has left Hong Kong residents who went overseas to reunite with family over the year-end holidays stranded abroad.
The ban on transit passengers compounds the woes faced by Cathay Pacific, Hong Kong’s struggling flag carrier, which has suffered due to increasingly stringent border restrictions and quarantine requirements set out by the Hong Kong government. Staffing shortages induced by the new rules have forced Cathay to operate a skeleton passenger service throughout January, and recently suspend all long-haul cargo flights for a week. The Hong Kong government is even threatening to take legal action against the airline as it blames Cathay Pacific for starting the city’s Omicron outbreak. The relatively small number of community cases have been traced to several aircrew who violated their home quarantine orders.
While daily new infections remain in the single digits, local transmission of the Omicron variant has triggered a fresh round of social-distancing curbs, including a ban on dine-in services after dark and the wholesale closure of entertainment venues as well as sports and cultural facilities. Hong Kong officials announced on Tuesday that in-person classes at kindergartens and primary schools would be suspended for at least two weeks starting today.