Hong Kong Bans Connecting Passengers From 150+ Countries

Hong Kong International Airport today confirmed that it will forbid passengers from more than 150 countries and territories from connecting at the hub for a month. This move follows the increasing impact that the Omicron variant is having on society.

Cathay Pacific at HKIA
More than 50 Omicron infections have been reported in Hong Kong since last last year. Photo: Getty Images

Strict measures

The ban on travelers from what Hong Kong deems as “high risk” nations and territories will last between January 16th and February 16th. Those that have stayed in these countries in the last 21 days won’t be able to enter, even for transit purposes.

Hong Kong has been notably strict with its COVID-19 policies since before the pandemic was declared. Robust measures haven’t stopped outbreaks from occurring, but since early 2021, the Special Administrative Region has managed to curb considerable spikes until the turn of the year.

Hong Kong placed a two-week flight ban from several countries, including Canada, Australia, India, the United Kingdom, and the United States, last week. It’s not only flights that are being impacted. Several public venues have been ordered to close, and people can only dine in restaurants before 18:00.

Qatar Airways, Cathay Pacific, Boeing 777
Most of Cathay Pacific’s Boeing 777s remain grounded due to the restrictions. Photo: Getty Images

Stay informed: Sign up for our daily and weekly aviation news digests.

Hong Kong’s role

The transit ban will have a significant impact on carriers operating in Hong Kong. Notably, flag carrier Cathay Pacific heavily relies on transit passengers across its operations. In late 2021, the airline’s leadership expressed its delight in the Hong Kong government’s confidence and commitment to maintaining its role as an aviation hub. Management cited the area’s geographic position and resources as crucial tools to keep connecting passengers.

“Cathay Pacific has proudly been the home airline of Hong Kong for 75 years, during which time we have seen and contributed significantly to the development of our home city into a leading international aviation and logistics hub. We share the confidence of the Government and the Chief Executive that this status can be consolidated and enhanced, leveraging on Hong Kong’s geographical advantage, managerial expertise and extensive talent pool,” Cathay Pacific CEO Augustus Tang shared in a company statement.

“We look forward to the commissioning next year of the Third Runway, and the full completion of the Third Runway System in 2024, which will greatly expand the capacity and competitiveness of Hong Kong International Airport. The various passenger experience and high-end logistics projects that the Airport Authority of Hong Kong is undertaking will also further enhance the efficiency and capabilities of our hub.“

Cargo is taking up a larger percentage of services amid the downturn in passenger activity. Photo: Getty Images

The struggles continue

Cathay reported a HK$21.65 billion ($2.8 billion) loss for 2020 before posting a net loss of HK$7.57 billion ($973 million) for the first half of 2021. In November, the operator carried just 70,047 customers. Additionally, stringent quarantine requirements became even more challenging in December following the rise of Omicron. Non-residents from over 90 countries were banned, and passengers flying in from important markets, including the UK and US, were made to undergo 21 days of quarantine.

Cathay has since highlighted to Simple Flying that it will operate approximately 20% of its pre-pandemic cargo capacity and around 2% of its pre-pandemic passenger flight capacity in January, following the latest crew quarantine measures implemented by the authorities.

Overall, these conditions and Hong Kong’s recent announcement regarding transit are delaying the return of Hong Kong’s role as an important global connecting hub. The region’s aviation industry will be hoping for better prospects by the time this year is over.

What are your thoughts about Hong Kong banning transit passengers from over 150 countries? What do you make of the overall move? Let us know what you think of the situation in the comment section.