Business group warns Hong Kong travel curbs a 'nightmare'
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Hong Kong's stringent pandemic travel restrictions, including frequent flight bans, are a "nightmare" for businesses despite a recent easing of the rules, the European Chamber of Commerce has said.
The business group published a letter to the city's leader on Wednesday urging her to drop the "circuit breaker" mechanism for flights, which temporarily suspends a route when an aircraft brings in too many infected passengers.
"Almost daily, our members and other residents have been reporting that they are unable to find their way back to Hong Kong or see their business travel being cancelled," Eurocham said in the letter to Carrie Lam.
"Many of us are giving up," the business chamber said, adding that the policy was a "nightmare" for travellers.
Daily coronavirus infections in Hong Kong have fallen back to triple digits as the city moves past an Omicron-fuelled wave that has killed more than 9,000 people since January.
But the city remains internationally isolated as it hews to a lighter version of China's zero-Covid strategy.
Hong Kong's government recently eased some measures, reducing mandatory hotel quarantine for all arrivals to seven days, down from 14.
It has also allowed non-residents to fly into Hong Kong for the first time in two years.
However, any airline that brings in five or more positive cases is banned from flying that route for five days.
Eurocham said the flight suspension mechanism has caused "constant cancellations", with some European airlines halting flights to Hong Kong entirely due to the policy.
The Asian finance hub has issued more than 80 temporary bans on flight routes this year.
Eurocham also called on the government to lift on-arrival quarantine, noting that locals who test positive are allowed to self-isolate at home but those arriving from overseas cannot.
Hong Kong's next leader John Lee on Thursday said the government must balance virus controls with the need for economic development, adding that the city's competitiveness hinges on access to both China and the world.
Speaking after a meeting with foreign business leaders, Lee acknowledged that the travel curbs are "causing some inconvenience" and that he would aim to provide clarity and certainty.
"It is a balancing act... The aim is to make (Hong Kong) accessible so that economic activities can take place as much as it can," Lee told AFP.
Last week, the Australian Chamber of Commerce recommended that Hong Kong follow the lead of Singapore or Japan by lowering quarantine requirements for business travellers.
The group also said the circuit breaker mechanism "unfairly punishes" passengers, businesses and airlines.
"The critical ongoing impact of the circuit breaker mechanism is to cause significant uncertainty for potential travellers, businesses and airlines, for no apparent public health benefit," Austcham wrote in a letter to Lam.
Restrictions need to be eased urgently for Hong Kong to "remain relevant to international business and retain talent needed to support its position as an international financial centre", the group added.
Lam said last week that the city had no plans to further relax border controls as they were needed to reduce imported infections.
Despite reopening its borders to non-residents starting May 1, Hong Kong has recorded only a trickle of international visitors.