Like many countries around the world battle their second, third, or even fourth wave of the coronavirus pandemic, Hong Kong is the latest to slap new restrictions on certain incoming travelers.
The Hong Kong government imposed a ban on all flights originating from India, Pakistan, and the Philippines starting on April 20 and lasting for two weeks.
The ban comes after the news that all three countries were categorized as “extremely high risk” after a dangerous new variant was detected.
Although specific arrivals typically need a Hong Kong pre-arrival registration for Indians, Hong Kong is only open to citizens, residents, and those from low-risk countries (such as Singapore or Australia).
What caused Hong Kong’s newest restrictions?
Many travelers, especially those from the affected countries, were surprised at Hong Kong’s decision to ban India, Pakistan, and the Philippines.
However, this didn’t come as a total shock. The newest restrictions came as a measure after 49 passengers on a flight from New Delhi to Hong Kong were tested positive for COVID-19.
The flight was via Indian operator Vistara, which arrived on April 4 and had more than 180 passengers on board. Roughly 1 in 4 passengers either had or developed coronavirus from the flight.
Hong Kong has a mandatory 21-day hotel quarantine for all arriving passengers, and thanks to this, the coronavirus was caught before the passengers could potentially infect others.
The majority of the cases from the flight were discovered when passengers went into quarantine. The two most infected passengers were at the Regal Airport Hotel in Chek Lap Kok and Ramada Hong Kong Grand View hotels in North Point and Sai Ying Pun.
Hong Kong has stated that a negative PCR test within 72 hours before departure is a mandatory requirement to enter the country. When a traveler arrives, they will need to take a second test to clear immigration.
However, this system may be flawed, which was the case with the Vistara situation.
Eric Feigl-Ding, a Senior Fellow at the Federation of American Scientists, has been following the situation closely and noted that “Some [COVID-19 transmission] may have occurred after the initial 72-hour pre-departure time window; after they got tested.”
The current coronavirus situation in these countries
Hong Kong, which has remained largely unscathed by the pandemic, is nearing 12,000 total infections and 200-some deaths for a region with more than 7.5 million inhabitants.
However, other countries haven’t been so lucky.
India, Pakistan, and the Philippines are categorized as “extremely high risk” countries by Hong Kong after the N501Y mutant strain of the coronavirus was detected recently.
India, the second-most populous country in the world, is currently in the midst of a second wave of the coronavirus. For a country with 1.37 billion people, more than 17 million have been infected, with an average of around 300,000 new cases per day.
This has been exacerbated by new mutations and crowded events, such as election campaigns, festivals, and an easing of lockdown measures since December 2020.
Likewise, the situation in India is so tricky that hospitals around the country are running out of oxygen machines and hospital beds, while ill citizens are being turned away if they try to access healthcare.
On a similar note, India’s neighbor to the west, Pakistan, isn’t faring much better. The country is currently in the midst of a third wave after a sharp increase in coronavirus patients.
The main issue in Pakistan, especially in its capital, Islamabad, is a lack of oxygen supply in the hospitals. Since there are so many high-risk patients being admitted at once, the oxygen pressure is constantly nearing the threshold due to excessive use.
Finally, the Philippines have been rolling out Enhanced Community Quarantines since the beginning of the pandemic to curb the spread of the virus. These measures vary from the locality and include different rules and restrictions for going outside.
The Philippines has one of the severest outbreaks of coronavirus in Asia, with more than 800,000 infections and 14,000 deaths.
The Surrounding Circumstances
In the following seasons, Hong Kong officials have outlined a series of plans to reduce social distance and travel bans. Because vaccination rates in the region have been insufficient, most of these strategies rely on residents and workers getting vaccines.
The government intends to enable recreation firms to operate, expand group sizes, and prolong hours of operation if employees have received at least one vaccine dosage and clients use the Leave Home Safe app.
Lockout laws and group sizes would then gradually increase as employees and clients become more vaccinated. Officials also aim to remove quarantine limits for vaccinated tourists, though it’s uncertain whether they’ll remove entrance limits as well.
Hong Kong may reduce the confinement time for vaccinated passengers from low-risk nations to 7 days or less, and the duration for tourists from medium-risk countries to 14 days or fewer.