By Farah Master and Twinnie Siu
HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong has asked Japan to lift a COVID-19 restriction that allows passenger flights from the financial hub to land at only four designated airports, saying the decision would affect around 60,000 passengers.
India, Italy, Taiwan and the United States are demanding mandatory COVID-19 testing on travelers from China after Beijing’s decision last month to lift strict zero-COVID policies that fueled a surge in infections across mainland China.
Hong Kong, home to more than 7 million people, is recording around 20,000 coronavirus cases a day, but lifted its COVID limits on Thursday for the first time in three years.
Japan, a major travel destination for those in Hong Kong, said it would limit flights from Hong Kong, Macao and mainland China to Tokyo’s two airports, as well as Osaka and Nagoya, from Friday.
The decision comes during the peak travel season ahead of the Lunar New Year holiday which begins on January 21.
“It is understood that around 250 outbound flights of Hong Kong airlines will be affected between 30 December 2022 and the end of January 2023, affecting around 60,000 passengers,” the government said in a statement on Wednesday.
City chief John Lee said the government indicated Japan was disappointed.
“We think Hong Kong people should be allowed to use not just these four airports,” Lee said.
The Hong Kong government said on Thursday that Japan will allow passenger flights from Hong Kong to also land in Hokkaido, Fukuoka and Okinawa, provided no passengers on board have been to mainland China in the previous seven days, but said the condition is “unreasonable”.
Hong Kong airline flights can still bring passengers back to Hong Kong from airports in Japan, the government said, to ensure their smooth return and “minimize the impact on Hong Kong travelers caused by the incident.” .
In a statement, Hong Kong’s national carrier Cathay Pacific Airways said it would continue to operate flights to Japan, albeit reducing them to 65 per week, down 20% from its January 2023 schedule.
HK Express, which is owned by Cathay, said in a separate statement that it will only be able to operate 60 scheduled flights a week to destinations in Japan due to curbs, resulting in the cancellation of 41 flights from Hong Kong to Japan a January.
Hong Kong Airlines and Peach Aviation said they will cancel some flight routes due to the rules.
In December, China began to dismantle the world’s toughest COVID lockdown and extensive testing regime, putting its battered economy on track for a full reopening next year.
The removal of curbs following widespread protests has meant COVID is spreading largely out of control, likely infecting millions every day, some international health experts said.
(Reporting by Farah Master and Twinnie Siu; Editing by Lincoln Feast and Stephen Coates)