International business groups in Hong Kong are begging the government to restart flights as a rating agency warned that a ban on overseas travel would deter companies from using Hong Kong as their regional headquarters.
Executives who returned home for Christmas have been stranded outside the Asian financial hub after authorities suspended flights from eight countries, including the United States and the United Kingdom, to protect the city from the variant of the Omicron coronavirus.
David Graham, executive director of the British Chambers of Commerce in Hong Kong, said the “unfortunate” theft ban had taken many by surprise.
“This will inevitably cause considerable disruption and inconvenience, especially for the many Hong Kong-based executives and employees who traveled to the UK over Christmas time to be with family and who were considering returning to Hong Kong in early January. “, did he declare. the Financial Times.
“We very much hope that the ban will be for a very limited period given the quarantine and testing measures already in place for those returning from the UK.”
Hong Kong pursues a “zero-Covid” policy in line with that of China. On Sunday, the port city of Tianjin began mass testing its 14 million residents after the detection of 20 locally transmitted cases, including at least two involving Omicron. Tianjin borders Beijing, which will host the Winter Olympics early next month.
Over the past week, Hong Kong reimposed numerous social distancing regulations after an outbreak that was sown by the flight crew of Cathay Pacific, who had been exempted from traveler quarantine orders.
The territory’s government has also come under fire after 13 senior officials and 19 lawmakers were quarantined over the weekend after attending a large birthday party – in violation of official guidelines for avoiding large gatherings. Two of the 170 participants then tested positive for Covid-19.
The quarantine order was then lifted for many participants after it was determined that one of the two cases was a false positive. Hong Kong’s first “patriots only” legislature is due to hold its opening session on Wednesday.
Flights from the eight nations were banned for 14 days on Wednesday last week. Other airlines, such as Air Canada and Virgin Atlantic, have temporarily halted flights because they were unable to meet the Hong Kong government’s quarantine requirements for crews.
The government said tougher measures needed to be implemented as the city faced the risk of a “major epidemic”.
Fitch Ratings, however, said the new restrictions could weaken Hong Kong’s economic growth prospects. “We believe that the tightening of restrictions on international arrivals will create further obstacles to the territory’s ability to serve as a regional headquarters for foreign multinationals.”
Hong Kong also recently introduced a mandatory seven-day quarantine for pilots and crews on cargo flights. The measure has wreaked havoc on flight schedules, with Cathay Pacific reducing its cargo capacity to 20% and passenger capacity to 2% of pre-pandemic levels.
The latest flight cancellations have prompted warnings of a sharp rise in food prices.
Those wishing to enter Hong Kong from most countries are already subject to three weeks of isolation in a hotel and, in some cases, a government quarantine facility.
The restrictions prevented the deaths and strains on health systems seen elsewhere, but cut the city off from the rest of the world.
At the same time, however, the city has failed to persuade very old people to get vaccinated, with just over 20% of those aged 80 and over vaccinated.
International business groups have previously warned that Hong Kong is risking its crown as the region’s top financial center if it does not reopen its borders.
“The flight restrictions add further stress, cost and uncertainty for business executives living in Hong Kong,” said Tara Joseph, director of the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong, which represents 1,400 companies on Chinese territory.
“Some people are stuck, others are afraid of what will happen next, and there is no indication when it will end.”
The US Consulate in Hong Kong said there was a need for “increased dialogue and transparency regarding travel, testing and quarantine measures that affect Hong Kong as a place to live and trade.”
Additional reporting by Tom Mitchell in Singapore