Hong Kong lifts embargo to ease tough COVID operations from April

HONG KONG, March 21 (Reuters) – Hong Kong plans to ease some anti-COVID-19 measures next month, lift restrictions on flights from nine countries, and reopen schools to reduce isolation for foreigners.

The move, announced by CEO Gary Lam on Monday, comes after a backlash from businesses and residents who see other parts of the world changing to “live with the virus”.

Residents of Chinese territory are increasingly frustrated by the drastic measures, many of which have been in place for more than two years.

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The ban on flights to Australia, Britain, Canada, France, India, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines and the United States will be lifted from April 1.

“The embargo is no longer timely and appropriate … If we continue the embargo, it will be a major setback for the people of Hong Kong who are stranded in these nine countries,” Lam told a news conference.

If residents test negative, hotel isolation for visitors can be reduced from 14 to seven days, Lam said. He had earlier said that there would be activities till April 20.

He said schools will resume face-to-face classes from April 19 after the Easter holidays, while public spaces, including sports facilities, will reopen from April 21.

Hong Kong’s border has been effectively closed since 2020, with few planes able to land and no passengers allowed on the road, isolating the city, which has built a reputation as a global financial hub.

Businesses and the city’s economy are reeling from widespread closures, while doctors say many of the city’s 7.4 million residents are suffering from mental health problems, especially among low – income families.

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In the weeks leading up to the May 8 city elections to choose who will lead the region for the next five years, Lam’s policy has taken a turn for the worse following repeated criticisms of Lam’s administration by politicians, pro-Beijing media and Chinese social media. .

He declined to comment on whether he would run for the new post.

Exit strategy

The plan to carry out mass corona virus testing will be put on hold, Lam said, citing experts that this is not the right time. Experts say Hong Kong should have a clearer exit strategy than trying to eradicate the virus completely.

While the former British colony is officially sticking to the “Dynamic Zero” corona virus policy, it is trying to control all eruptions, just like China’s mainland, and is turning to mitigation strategies as deaths rise.

Hong Kong has recorded more than one million deaths worldwide in recent weeks – 24 times more than its rival Singapore – due to the high number of elderly people being removed from the highly contagious Omigran variant care home.

The densely populated city has recorded more than 1 million epidemics since the outbreak began and about 5,000 deaths – most of them in the past month.

Health experts estimate that 4 million people could be infected because many residents are infected with the virus and are isolated at home without notifying authorities.

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Lam said the social exclusion measures will be eased in phases from April 21 and will now allow people to dine after 6pm with tables of two to four people.

Nightclubs, pubs and beaches will be allowed to open in the second phase, while people will be allowed to exercise outside without a mask. Currently it is mandatory to wear a mask anywhere outside the home.

Until this year, Hong Kong has been more successful in controlling the corona virus than many cities, but recent infections have overwhelmed its world-class medical system, overcrowding mortuaries and placing public confidence in city government. Time is limited. read more

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Report by Farah Master, Twinney Chiu, Jesse Pong, Anne Marie Rondrie and Queenie Garcia; Editing: Christopher Cushing & Simon Cameron-Moore

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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