HONG KONG, Dec 29 (Reuters) – Hong Kong has asked Japan to withdraw a COVID-19 restriction that allowed passenger flights from the financial center to land at only four designated airports, a decision it said would affect around 60,000 passengers.
India, Italy, Taiwan and the US require mandatory COVID-19 tests for travelers from China. Beijing last month lifted strict zero-covid-19 policies, prompting a surge in infections across mainland China.
Hong Kong, home to more than 7 million people, is reporting about 20,000 coronavirus cases a day but lifted its COVID restrictions on Thursday for the first time in three years.
Japan, a top travel destination for those in Hong Kong, said it would limit flights from Hong Kong, Macau and mainland China to Tokyo’s two airports, as well as Osaka and Nagoya, from Friday.
The decision comes during a peak travel season ahead of the Lunar New Year holiday, which begins on January 21.
“About 250 Hong Kong Airlines outbound flights will be affected between December 30, 2022 and the end of January 2023, affecting about 60,000 passengers,” the government said in a statement late Wednesday.
City President John Lee said the government had indicated to Japan that it was disappointed.
“We think Hong Kong people should be allowed to use not just these four airports,” Lee said.
On Thursday, Hong Kong’s government said it would also allow passenger flights from Hong Kong to land in Japan’s Hokkaido, Fukuoka and Okinawa, which had no passengers in mainland China for the previous seven days, but said the situation was “unreasonable”.
Hong Kong Airlines flights will be able to take passengers back to Hong Kong from airports in Japan, the government said, to ensure their smooth return and “minimize the impact of the incident on Hong Kong passengers”.
In a statement, Hong Kong’s flagship carrier Cathay Pacific Airways ( 0293.HK ) said it would continue to operate flights to Japan, although it would be cut to 65 a week, a 20% drop from its January 2023 schedule.
Cathay-owned HK Express said in a separate statement that it could only operate 60 scheduled flights a week to destinations in Japan due to the restrictions, which prompted the cancellation of 41 flights from Hong Kong to Japan in January.
Hong Kong Airlines and Beach Aviation said they were canceling some flights due to the rules.
In December, China began lifting the world’s toughest COVID regime of lockdowns and extensive testing, putting its battered economy on course to fully reopen next year.
Some international health experts have said that the lifting of restrictions following widespread protests means that COVID is spreading largely unchecked, probably infecting millions of people every day.
Reporting by Farah Master and Twinny Chiu; Editing by Lincoln Feist and Stephen Coates
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