Thursday, January 27, 2022

Hong Kong’s UK flight ban strands thousands of students

Many had planned to go home for the summer holiday but can no longer do so.

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For 22-year-old Timmin Lam, studying in Manchester, the ban on flights from the UK to Hong Kong this week is the latest in a series of setbacks that have prevented him from travelling home for almost two years.

“I feel trapped in the UK. I really wish the pandemic would improve,” he said.

Hong Kong authorities said on Monday that passenger flights from the UK would be banned starting from July 1 to curb the spread of the rampaging Delta variant of Covid-19, Reuters reports.

Britain has been categorised as extremely high-risk and people who have stayed in the country for more than two hours will be unable to board passenger flights for Hong Kong.

It is the second time that the Chinese-ruled financial hub has barred arrivals from Britain. The earlier ban was in force from December 2020 until May.

The Hong Kong government said the latest ban was due to “the recent rebound of the epidemic situation in the UK and the widespread Delta variant virus strain there, coupled with a number of cases with L452R mutant virus strains detected by tests on people arriving from the UK”.

Before the ban, restrictions on the UK had been relaxed to allow vaccinated travellers only seven days of quarantine compared to 21 days.

Thousands of students had planned to return home for the summer, and the sudden change has resulted in chaos for many.

“I really wish they had announced this earlier to allow more time for us to organise things,” said Wallis Au, a 20-year-old physiotherapy student in Britain. She said she had a flight booking to arrive in Hong Kong on July 5 and would not be able to return before the deadline.

Due to Hong Kong’s strict Covid-19 regulations, travellers cannot land in the city without securing a hotel reservation for quarantine, After the ban was announced, parents rushed to find hotels for their children, but for many it was impossible.

“Even if I can manage to get an earlier flight for her – which was a push because everyone was rushing – how could she board without the hotel booking?” said Hong Kong mother Debi Yeung, whose 20-year-old daughter is studying in Leeds.

Yeung said she had changed flight dates and hotel bookings several times already because of changing regulations, and her daughter had scheduled multiple Covid tests ahead of her journey.

“We have given up now,” she said. “I don’t think there is much more that we can do.”

Dr Julian Tang, a virologist at the University of Leicester who previously worked in Hong Kong, told the AP the ban makes sense from a scientific point of view.

“The UK has never been good at controlling the virus and overconfidence in the vaccine is likely now spurring this latest wave,” he said, adding it makes “perfect sense” for Hong Kong to ban travel from Britain.

He said previous surges of Covid-19 in Hong Kong have been tiny and that an influx of imported cases in a largely unvaccinated population would be worrying.

He said that Beijing wants to keep the Chinese territory as pristine as possible, “until they can persuade people to get vaccinated. And that’s going to take a long time”.

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