Ban on flights from the Philippines, other countries may go beyond 14 days

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Hong Kong International Airport (SCREENSHOT: Google/maps.google.com/Maxar Technologies/CNES/Airbus)

The Hong Kong government said it will no longer automatically lift flight bans it imposed on “extremely high-risk” places after 14 days, in a bid to control the spread of a highly infectious coronavirus variant in the city.

‘’Due to the need to review the epidemic situation of the place concerned, the flight suspension mechanism will not be lifted automatically,” a government statement on Thursday said.

Nepal will also be added to the list of “extremely high-risk” countries starting midnight of May 1, the government said, following confirmed Covid-19 infections among 13 passengers from the country in one day.

Flights from the Philippines, India, and Pakistan were prohibited from landing in Hong Kong on Apr. 20 after a string of Covid-19 cases carrying the N501Y variant were found in recent arrivals. Under the initial flight suspension mechanism, the ban will be automatically lifted after two weeks.

The Hong Kong government said that under the amended mechanism, it will review the epidemic situation in these “extremely high-risk” places every two weeks before considering lifting the flight bans.

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But the tightened measures are seen to affect the deployment of workers from the Philippines—one of Hong Kong’s major sources of foreign domestic workers.

The Philippine capital of Manila has been under one of the world’s longest lockdowns to stop the spread of Covid-19. But the country’s total coronavirus case tally has recently gone above a million, after logging an average of 8,000 newly confirmed infections per day in the past two weeks.

Labour Secretary Dr. Law Chi-kwong said the fortnightly ban will affect over 500 household service workers from the Philippines, but agencies say as many as 1,500 workers are impacted by the flight restrictions.

Another criterion was added to trigger such a ban: if 10 or more passengers were confirmed positive by any tests with a coronavirus variant in any plane trips from a place within seven days, all passenger flights from that place will be barred from landing in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong Union of Employment Agencies chairperson Thomas Chan earlier said the ban’s effect will also cascade to workers still awaiting deployment, and to employers who may see an increase in the salary demands of domestic workers in the city.

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