Hong Kong will scrap mandatory quarantine for locally based aircrew on cargo flights and reduce it by more than half for those on passenger services, as it slowly peels back COVID restrictions that have isolated the city.
From May 1, quarantine for crew on passenger flights will be lowered to three days from seven, a government spokesman said in an statement on Friday. Cargo pilots will have to take two COVID polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests before being allowed to leave the airport, and will no longer need to isolate in hotels or at home if the results are negative.
The changes had been reported earlier based on a memo to airlines seen by Bloomberg News.
The moves go beyond changes originally proposed by the government after airlines wrote a joint letter calling for a relaxation of rules so they could operate more flights.
The changes come into effect on the same day Hong Kong will allow any non-residents to travel to the city for the first time in more than two years. From May 1, the threshold will also be raised on a mechanism that bans flights for carrying infected passengers. A total of 80 airline routes have been suspended for between seven and 14 days this year.
In addition, on-arrival COVID tests will be scrapped for local and foreign aircrew working in a closed-loop system of operation that separates them from the community, confirming an earlier report by Bloomberg News. If crew breach the rules, they won’t be able to work in the closed loop for 30 days, meaning they will in effect be unable to fly in or out of Hong Kong.
Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd. will benefit the most from the changes, as they pave the way for the carrier to restart long-haul airfreight services, which have been suspended all year. Cargo has been a key source of income for Cathay as its passenger operations slumped.
A Cathay spokeswoman said the airline welcomed the adjustments to crew quarantine.
Hong Kong separately announced Friday that it will lift outbound COVID-19 travel alerts on overseas countries and territories on May 1.