Travelers wary as Hong Kong gov’t eases travel and quarantine restrictions

Hong Kong has maintained some of the world’s most onerous pandemic-related travel restrictions with mandatory hotel quarantines that have been as long as 21 days.

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As of April 1, a COVID-19 related ban on flights to Hong Kong from Canada will be lifted, but those in the travel industry or who make frequent trips to Asia say there’s no rush to book tickets.

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The owner of Vancouver-based Happy Times Travel, which has long booked business and leisure flights to Asia, said it will take time for airlines to sort the rebooking of existing tickets and restart service.

“There have been many overnight changes. It’s been very severe the last two years,” said Glynnis Chan.

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Glynnis Chan.
Glynnis Chan. Photo by BC Liberals /PNG

While the ban is supposed to be lifted April 1, Air Canada flights from Vancouver to Hong Kong are only showing booking availability starting June 15, while Cathay Pacific has some starting May 15, said Chan.

Hong Kong has maintained some of the world’s most onerous pandemic-related travel restrictions with mandatory hotel quarantines that have been as long as 21 days. Before the pandemic, there were daily direct flights by two airlines between Vancouver and Hong Kong.

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In January, as the Omicron variant spread, Hong Kong suspended flights from Australia, Canada, France, India, Pakistan, the Philippines, the UK, the US and Nepal.

One of Chan’s clients, Liza Wu, said the halving of the latest mandatory hotel quarantine from 14 to seven days is a large relief, but the relaxing only applies to vaccinated residents of Hong Kong. While she holds a Hong Kong resident’s “return home” card because she was born there, she is not sure what the situation would be for her children of her, who enter Hong Kong with their Canadian passports.

“I’m part of a ‘get-back-to-Hong-Kong’ Facebook group and people had been talking about getting on flights from Turkey, Thailand, Singapore or Dubai, and then going to Hong Kong.”

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Steve Johansen of Richmond-based Organic Ocean Seafood Inc. had been exporting BC sockeye to chefs in Hong Kong, but has shifted his business to Singapore in the past two years.

“Why would somebody go to Hong Kong to sit in a hotel for seven days when there are these other places that are opening up?” I have asked.

With the recent tightening of restrictions to battle Omicron, Hong Kong residents, both local and expatriate, have been temporarily and permanently leaving Hong Kong, some spending weeks in Singapore, or Seoul and Taipei, and others relocating for longer.

Chan said while those traveling from Vancouver for business can still go to these other locations in the region, she has felt more pressure when it comes to clients who need to get to Hong Kong urgently to see family.

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“They call me and there is someone in the hospital for the last time. One man was very upset when his family member passed away,” said Chan.

Hong Kong has been dealing with one of the highest COVID death rates in recent weeks and the elderly population has, in particular, been hit hard. Before the start of Omicron, less than one-quarter of people over age 80 had been given two shots. Even now, under 40 per cent in that age category have been fully vaccinated compared with around 90 per cent in other Asian cities.

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