Hong Kong government scraps quarantine rules for aircrew

HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong will scrap its quarantine rules for local airline crew from Saturday, the government announced on Friday, a key step in unwinding draconian COVID-19 rules that have isolated the financial hub Asian.

Under the new arrangements, locally based aircrew can return home after testing negative for a nucleic acid test taken at the airport, it said in a statement. Previously, the crew had to quarantine in a hotel for three nights before flying home.

The measure had led many airlines, including Virgin and British Airways, to suspend operations in the Chinese special administrative region due to the strict rules. Other airlines have drastically reduced their operations, making it very difficult for people to travel to or from the city.

Hong Kong has tightly controlled its border with the mainland and the rest of the world for more than 2.5 years, in line with China’s “zero-COVID” policy of eradicating epidemics as they arise with strict restrictions.

The city of 7.3 million people relies heavily on international trade and travel, and the restrictions have hurt its economy and led to the exodus of tens of thousands of residents.

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The new rule “will effectively help airlines improve flight services between Hong Kong and other parts of the world, and enable Hong Kong to play its role as an international aviation hub,” the government said.

Travelers leaving Hong Kong will no longer be required to undergo temperature screening, the government said in a separate statement on Friday.

Business groups, diplomats and many locals have criticized the city’s COVID-19 rules, saying they threaten Hong Kong’s competitiveness and its position as a global financial hub.

Masks are compulsory in most places in Hong Kong and gatherings of more than four people are prohibited.

Hong Kong has reported over 1.5 million COVID infections and 9,769 deaths since the start of the pandemic.

(Reporting by Meg Shen and Farah Master; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky and Jonathan Oatis)

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