Passengers flying from Hong Kong will be excluded from the requirement for a negative Covid test – raising fears that the policy will not be able to stop the spread of infection from China, according to industry sources.
Airlines have been told that only passengers from mainland China are expected to have a pre-departure Covid test, although there has been a similar increase in cases in Hong Kong since the end of Xi Jinping’s zero Covid policy.
The requirement will be introduced on Thursday, January 5, before China lifts international travel restrictions from Sunday, January 8. About a fifth of passengers arriving from China will be tested on arrival, so British scientists can run genomic checks for variants that could turn out.
The crackdown was seen as a political move to put pressure on China to end its secrecy on Covid, which is said to hinder global efforts to track the emergence of any dangerous variant. While the US did not exempt Hong Kong, it did align the UK with allies like the US.
The Department of Transport said it was “still working on the details” of the policy, but lawmakers, scientists and travel experts warned that not including Hong Kong risks opening a legal loophole.
Watch: UK to impose Covid screening travel requirements on travelers from China
‘There should be no spaces’
Tobias Ellwood, chairman of the House of Commons defense committee, said: “Given that China has lifted its overseas travel ban while lifting domestic travel restrictions, it makes no sense to exclude Hong Kong from these new measures.
“Besides the Covid issues, this is also about opposing China (which refuses to share any data on Covid) and is now irresponsibly opening its borders even though a million new cases are reported a week and Covid is clearly not under control. There shouldn’t be any gaps.”
Paul Charles, CEO of travel consulting firm PC Agency, said: “There is nothing to prevent infected people from going to Hong Kong and flying from there. The measure is designed to force China to release more accurate information on Covid, but if you exclude Hong Kong, there is very little pressure applied.”
Simon Clarke, associate professor of cellular microbiology at the University of Reading, said data on infection numbers and circulating variables are as opaque in Hong Kong as in China.
“It’s surprising why passengers arriving from there don’t need to be tested,” he said. “I can’t help but think that the UK continues to signal that it will remain open to people from Hong Kong.”
British Airways and Cathay Pacific transport up to 1,178 daily passengers or just over 8,200 passengers per week from Hong Kong to London – a major business and travel destination where tens of thousands of Hong Kongers have fled China through the UK BNO visa programme. route.
The ministers argued that the COVID tests were proportionate, temporary and largely done to pressure China to be more transparent. Senior lawmakers have warned that this should not be a “slippery slope” for wider reintroduction of Covid measures.
People from the aerospace industry said they believe the Government is placing more emphasis on genomic analysis of post-arrival testing, which can provide early warning of any new variants.
Data from the Hong Kong Health Protection Center suggest an average of 4,529.9 cases per day, equivalent to 0.061 percent of the population. According to Airfinity, an analytics platform, that’s half the rate in China, with 1.8 million infections per day, and 0.13 percent of the population.
Airfinity predicts infections will reach their first peak in China on January 13, with 3.7 million cases per day. In addition to the UK and the US, France, Spain, Italy, Japan, India, South Korea, Malaysia and Taiwan are conducting tests for passengers from China.