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Hong Kong asks Japan to lift airport bans, 60,000 passengers affected

Hong Kong asks Japan to lift airport bans, 60,000 passengers affected

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HONG KONG, Dec 29 (Reuters) – Hong Kong has asked Japan to lift a COVID-19 restriction that allows passenger flights from the financial center to land at only four designated airports, saying the decision would affect about 60,000 passengers.

India, Italy, Taiwan and the United States require mandatory tests for COVID-19 on travelers from China following Beijing’s decision last month to roll back strict zero-covid-19 infection policies that fueled a spike in infections in mainland China.

Hong Kong, home to more than 7 million people, has been recording about 20,000 cases of the coronavirus a day but lifted its COVID restrictions on Thursday for the first time after three years.

Japan, the most popular tourist destination for people in Hong Kong, said it would limit flights from Hong Kong, Macau and mainland China to the two Tokyo airports, as well as Osaka and Nagoya, from Friday.

The decision comes during the peak travel season ahead of the Lunar New Year holiday, which begins on January 21.

“It is understood that around 250 outbound flights of Hong Kong airlines will be affected between 30 December 2022 and the end of January 2023, affecting around 60,000 passengers,” the government said in a statement late on Wednesday.

City leader John Lee said the government had indicated to Japan that it was disappointed.

“We think Hong Kong people should be allowed to use more than just these four airports,” Lee said.

On Thursday, the Hong Kong government said Japan would allow passenger flights from Hong Kong to also land in Hokkaido, Fukuoka and Okinawa, provided no passengers on board had been to mainland China in the previous seven days, but said the condition is “unreasonable”.

Hong Kong airline flights can still carry passengers back to Hong Kong from airports in Japan, the government said, to ensure their smooth return and “minimize the impact on Hong Kong passengers caused by the incident”.

In a statement, Hong Kong’s flagship carrier Cathay Pacific Airways (0293.HK) said it would continue to operate flights to Japan, although it would reduce them to 65 a week, 20% less than the planned schedule for January 2023.

HK Express, which is owned by Cathay, said in a separate statement that it would only be able to operate 60 scheduled flights a week to destinations in Japan due to the restrictions, which led to the cancellation of 41 flights from Hong Kong to Japan in January.

Hong Kong Airlines and Peach Aviation said they would cancel some flights due to the rules.

In December, China began lifting the world’s strictest COVID-19 lockdown and extensive testing, putting its battered economy on course for a full reopening next year.

The lifting of restrictions after widespread protests means that COVID is spreading largely unchecked, possibly infecting millions of people every day, some international health experts said.

Reporting by Farah Master and Twini Siu; Editing by Lincoln Feast and Stephen Coates

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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