Coronavirus: online searches soar after Hong Kong says it will lift flight ban on 9 countries including US, UK and Canada

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Searches on a leading travel booking site surged nearly three times on the back of news that Hong Kong will lift a coronavirus-related flight ban on nine countries next month, according to the online service provider.

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Expedia said that in the 48 hours since the city on Monday revealed it would scrap the flight ban, searches on its Hong Kong website jumped 285 per cent, compared with the average data of the preceding seven days.

About 25 per cent of the searches came from Britain, 15 per cent from the United States, more than 10 per cent from Canada, 10 per cent from Australia and 5 per cent from the Philippines.

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Flights from nine countries, namely Australia, Canada, France, India, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines, Britain and the US, will now be able to resume from April 1 after being suspended since January 8.

Only vaccinated Hong Kong residents will be allowed in from those countries and will only need to undergo seven days of mandatory hotel quarantine rather than 14, if they test negative for the coronavirus on the sixth and seventh days of arrival.

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Expedia said overall searches on outbound Hong Kong flights also surged 90 per cent following the announcement, with London, Bangkok, Vancouver, Toronto and Tokyo among the most searched destinations.

The operator said the search data also showed that trips lasting seven days or less were being considered, compared with longer journeys before the announcement.

Joanna Lu, head of consultancy in Asia at Ascend by Cirium, said essential travellers could benefit from the coming changes as arrivals would still be subject to quarantine.

“Looking at the other destination countries, many have already lifted up the quarantine restrictions or showed quite positive trends in domestic travel so there is no doubt their airlines will want to arrange flights to Hong Kong,” Lu said.

“The number of Covid-19 cases is still high in Hong Kong so there may not be much improvement in inbound traffic for now.”

Lu also pointed out that under Hong Kong rules, flights would be suspended if a certain number of infections were found on board upon arrival so actual operations might be still unstable.

Hong Kong has issued more than 40 airline flight bans, each lasting two weeks, since the beginning of the year under its route-specific suspension mechanism aimed at putting a lid on imported infections.

Cathay has a flight out of London on March 31 arriving in Hong Kong the next day and another departing on April 24. Photo: Reuters

According to data from Cirium, an aviation analytics company, Air India is expected to have 26 flights between April 1 and June 30, compared with just five between January 1 and March 31.

A Post check on Wednesday also found that airlines were gradually adding flights for booking.

Hong Kong’s flagship carrier Cathay Pacific will only operate two flights each per month out of Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Vancouver and Toronto in April.

The carrier also has a flight out of London on March 31 arriving in Hong Kong the next day and another departing on April 24. Two flights from Manchester are scheduled on April 3 and 20.

The airline’s flight schedule show that it will not be operating any routes to Hong Kong from India, Nepal and Pakistan, even after the blanket bans on those countries are lifted on April 1.

Cathay will only begin to offer two inbound flights from France, on May 2 and 18, departing from Paris.

Air Canada had announced in February that it would cancel all flights to and from Hong Kong until April 22 due to the city’s tight travel restrictions. The Post has contacted the airline to ask if it will resume flights earlier in light of the coming rule changes.

A Post check of Emirates Airlines’ flight reservation website revealed daily flights from Mumbai or New Delhi to Hong Kong were available starting on April 1. Flights from India were all more than 30 hours long with transits in Dubai or Bangkok or even both.

Emirates also opened up bookings for flights from Pakistan, with departures from Islamabad to Hong Kong starting on April 1, while scheduled trips from Karachi and Lahore would resume on April 28.

On Cebu Pacific’s webpage, flights from Cebu in the Philippines to Hong Kong were only available for booking beginning on April 20, while those from the capital Manila were due to resume on April 21.

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