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HK keeps flight ban on 8 countries, strict gathering rules

14 January 2022

By Daisy CL Mandap 

The irony of the background slogan did not escape reporters

Hong Kong has decided to keep for at least two more weeks its ban on passenger flights from eight countries, including the Philippines.

At a press conference held earlier tonight, Chief Executive Carrie Lam also announced that the stringent social distancing measures that were originally meant to last only until Jan 20 will also be extended for 14 days.

The flight ban which was enforced on Jan 8 and was set to last only until Jan 21, will now be extended to Feb 4. Covered by the ban apart from the Philippines are Australia, Canada, France, India, Pakistan, the United Kingdom and the United States.

The stricter gathering rules which prohibit dining in at restaurants after 6pm among other restrictions, will be in place until Feb 3, the third day of the Lunar New Year.

CE Lam’s announcement came as the number of Omicron-linked cases in Hong Kong dropped to 9 today, the lowest in two weeks.


She also reported a significant drop in the total number of cases in the past week since she announced the twin measures, and said the infection rate this time is far lower than in the third wave.

But she said the fear that there are undetected virus carriers in the city remains, citing figures showing that 30% of those found to have Omicron in Hong Kong do not display symptoms.

“We are worried that there may still be a silent transmission going on,” she said. “So our view is that there is still risk of an outbreak.”

Pindutin para sa detalye

She added that Hong Kong has to remain vigilant and ensure that it is not importing cases.

The eight countries where passenger flights have been banned were the biggest sources of imported Omicron cases in Hong Kong since the highly transmissible variant was first detected.

In the case of the Philippines, for example, all flights coming from Manila and Cebu had already been suspended even before the blanket ban was imposed, for bringing in up to 10 passengers who tested positive on arrival at Hong Kong airport.

Still, Hong Kong’s decision to extend the flight ban comes as a blow for thousands of residents stuck in the eight countries, and had been waiting to be allowed to fly back.

Thousands of Filipino migrant workers have been struggling to get to HK for months

But it is even more devastating for thousands of Filipino migrant workers who have been waiting for months, even years, to take up their jobs in Hong Kong.

Some of them were caught in the first flight ban imposed on the Philippines starting in April 2021 and had been lifted for less than four months before it was put back in place. A lot more were unable to fly out because of the highly limited quarantine places allotted by Hong Kong for incoming foreign domestic workers.

In Hong Kong, those likely to greet the extended gathering restrictions with dismay are restaurant owners whose operating hours will continue to be cut short during the biggest event in the Chinese calendar.


Equally devastating is the effect it has on those who manage or work in bars, karaokes, beauty parlors, gyms, cinemas, massage parlors, theme parks and other entertainment and leisure venues which will remain shut for the next three weeks.

Residents who had looked forward to having the same treats that they had last year when Chinese New Year events were kept, are also in for a disappointment.

CE Lam said large-scale events such as the New Year fair, which this year is supposed to be held in 15 areas across Hong Kong, as well as spring events, will all be canceled.

But as an appeasement, she said that if the pandemic situation improves in the coming weeks, the government may start easing restrictions from Feb 4.

Beauty parlors and other venues may be allowed to reopen, but may have to operate within a vaccine bubble, which means only those who are vaccinated will be allowed to enter.

Mrs Lam also announced that businesses and individuals affected by the closures and other Covid restrictions can apply for financial assistance starting on Monday under the government’s fifth round of anti-epidemic funding totaling $3.57 billion.

If it becomes necessary, she said the government will ask the Legislative Council for additional funds to distribute to badly hit businesses.

Asked if she could give a guarantee on when quarantine-free travel in Hong Kong could resume, Lam said nobody could give that assurance.

Hong Kong has been fighting Covid-19 for the past two years, and during that time, she said the city has managed to keep its infection rate down to just 4% of the total cases worldwide.

“So we have been doing our very best but we cannot guarantee (that) because the virus is changing very rapidly,” she said.

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