HK third wave: Emirates Airlines halts flights to and from city amid Covid-19 clampdown

16-Jul-2020 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 6:02 AM Print This Post

Emirates Airlines, which has carried relatively large numbers of returnees from Pakistan and India back to Hong Kong during the coronavirus pandemic, has halted all flights to and from the city until Saturday amid new rules requiring passengers from high-risk areas to test negative for Covid-19 before flying.

Passengers who had been in Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Nepal, South Africa, the Philippines or Indonesia would need to provide a negative Covid-19 test result before arriving in Hong Kong, the government said on Monday.

Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan Siu-chee on Tuesday refused to rule out adding more countries to the so-called high-risk list.

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Travellers would be asked to show test certificates from Saturday although the rule takes effect from Wednesday, an airline industry source said.

With few airlines flying from India and Pakistan to transit hubs and more broadly to Hong Kong, the number of flight options has narrowed considerably for those in the South Asian countries.

There are at least 5,000 Hong Kong residents still stuck in India several months on from the start of the pandemic.

Mandatory testing for aircrew arriving in the city was introduced last Wednesday.

For fliers, the onus is on airlines to check if passengers are fit to fly based on, among others, their health, Covid-19 test results and travel history.

Emirates, which cited unspecified operational reasons, stopped flying to Hong Kong after last Saturday, according to tracker service FlightRadar24.

A spokeswoman, when asked how the airline planned to adapt to the new rules, said on Tuesday: “Emirates has taken the decision to temporarily suspend passenger services to and from Hong Kong until July 18. Plans to resume services will be subject to review.

“We remain committed to serving our customers in Hong Kong and are working hard to resume services as soon as possible.”

As of Monday, most imported cases in Hong Kong over the past four weeks came from Pakistan, India and the Philippines with 93, 54 and 35 cases respectively. A significant number of imported Covid-19 cases travelled via the popular air transit hub of Dubai on Emirates.

Aircrew and seafarers had been exempt from Covid-19 testing but a number of previously undetected infections prompted the government to scrap the exemption, and more cases have since emerged.

The mandatory testing for aircrew forced a number of long-haul airlines to halt flights to the city over the past week. US carriers United Airlines and American Airlines led the flight suspensions.

Air France and Air Canada have since cancelled Hong Kong flights, while KLM has added a stopover on return journeys.

Over the weekend, Emirates said it would stop cabin crew layovers in Hong Kong to avoid disruption to their rest times between flights.

Airlines risk a fine of HK$50,000 (US$6,541) and imprisonment of six months should travellers not meet the tests set out by authorities and carriers also risk the same financial penalty and jail time for non-compliance and providing false information.

Similarly, travellers who fail “to comply with a requirement to provide information, or knowingly or recklessly provide any information that is false or misleading” face a HK$10,000 fine and six-month jail term.

Still-stranded Hong Kong resident Amit Rawat, 35, flew to India over the Lunar New Year in late January with his six-year-old son and wife Sarjoj, who is four months’ pregnant. They planned to stay in Noida, outside Delhi, for a holiday but were left stranded after the government locked down the nation in March.

Backing the tighter measures, he said: “It’s not really a problem taking a test before the flight. It’s for the betterment of the people of Hong Kong.”

But he remained disappointed by the lack of more chartered flights arranged by the Hong Kong government.


Category: Hong Kong

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