Hong Kong residents stranded overseas for months by Covid-19 rules barring flights from Britain were offered a glimmer of hope on Monday when authorities hinted they would look at helping them return to the city.
City officials noted the number of coronavirus cases confirmed in Britain had fallen from a previous weekly high of more than 400,000 to about 40,000 earlier this month, while more than 24 million in the country – over a third of its population – had received at least the first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine.
Since December 22, Hong Kong has imposed an unprecedented ban on all passenger flights from Britain, a drastic measure designed to shut out a new and more infectious variant of Covid-19. British health authorities had warned the variant was spreading out of control across London and southeast England.
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All people who had been in Britain for more than two hours in the past 21 days had also been banned from boarding a flight to Hong Kong.
A spokesman said on Monday it was necessary to protect the health of the overall community in Hong Kong by guarding against the entry of the new virus variants. But he also recognised that the measures relating to so-called Group A places – “extremely high-risk” countries, such as Britain, Brazil, Ireland and South Africa – were very stringent and would inevitably affect the return of a number of Hong Kong residents, most of them in Britain.
“The government is exploring arrangements that could facilitate these residents’ direct return to Hong Kong without compromising the public health of the local community,” the spokesman said in a statement.
Details of the arrangements would be announced later, the spokesman added.
Martin*, a 45-year-old Briton who works in the communications industry in Hong Kong, visited the country in December for family reasons and was later stranded.
“Being able to return to Hong Kong would be good news, but I would want to know the details first. So, would I still have to quarantine for three weeks in a hotel I have to pay for?” he asked.
He had previously considered flying back via Dubai, but the cost of a hotel quarantine for three weeks there and another three weeks in Hong Kong made him dismiss the idea.
“I would be hesitant to return if the 21-day quarantine remains in place, unless it can be served at home. I would not be comfortable returning on a government chartered flight, and would prefer to wait until commercial travel resumes,” he said.
A Hong Kong housewife, Sally*, was previously stranded after accompanying her 11-year-old daughter to Britain to drop her off at boarding school. But she had recently decided to fly back via Dubai after spending “a lot” on tickets and hotel accommodation for herself and her two other children.
“[The Hong Kong] government just keeps dragging on. There was no point waiting forever … I had to leave,” the mother said on her 21st day in Dubai.
She said Carrie Lam’s administration should have considered lifting the flight ban earlier, and she expressed doubts over when the government would actually go ahead with it.
Last month, some of the more than 800 stranded Hongkongers in Britain urged the city’s government to arrange special flights for them to return home. Several told the Post they felt ignored by authorities in their home city.
The Immigration Department said by then it had received about 840 inquiries and requests for help from Hongkongers.
*Names have been changed at the request of those involved
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