Hong Kong will resume passenger flights from Britain this week for the first time since December 25, the Post has learned.
Authorities are poised to remove the harsh Covid-19 travel restrictions imposed on Britain which stopped passenger flights from the country entirely.
A source familiar with the situation said the flights would be resumed this week, explaining the decision was based on the reduced number of daily infections in Britain, the high vaccination rate and the overall pandemic situation.
In an official announcement two weeks ago, the Hong Kong government said it would consider lowering country classifications from “extremely high risk” to “very high risk” where appropriate.
In mid-April, the government said it intended to lift the ban in early May by reclassifying Britain to a so-called A2 country, lowering it from the “extremely high risk” category to “very high risk”.
However, as of April 30, a government gazette notice changing the country’s status had not been carried out.
Stranded city residents will be allowed to return on any Hong Kong-bound flights from Britain as long as they are able to secure an air ticket and a hotel room for compulsory 21-day hotel quarantine upon arrival.
In the intervening months, many desperate people have flown to another country – Dubai being a popular choice – then stayed there for 21 days before returning to Hong Kong.
The administration last month arranged two special repatriation flights with Cathay Pacific, but the demand was so huge that the carrier’s website was unable to cope with the volume of travellers trying to snap up just 600 tickets.
The government then announced a relaxation of the flight restrictions, much to the ire of those who had already paid close to HK$9,000 (US$1,160) for the cheapest one-way ticket on the repatriation flights.
The Britain ban was triggered by the threat of a highly infectious mutant strain discovered in the country. The situation was then compounded by an explosion in new infections that surged to almost 60,000 a day.
Since then, Britain has fought back with a highly successful vaccination strategy, and as of Sunday, 51.7 per cent of the population had received at least one vaccine dose. The falling infection numbers mirror the ramp up in vaccinations across the country.
The number of new Covid-19 infections in Britain also fell to 1,671 on Sunday, a new low as the country recovers from its deadly second outbreak.
Cathay Pacific, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic are all poised to restart London-to-Hong Kong flights when the new rules are introduced. The trio have been running cargo-only flights to Hong Kong while still carrying passengers to Britain, where demand for travel remains robust.
Airlines had been selling tickets to passengers in advance of the “early-May” restriction removal, but tickets have not been available until mid-May as confusion reigned about the specific timeline for the rules relaxation.