Up to 4 people will be allowed for public gatherings, up from the current 2.

Hong Kong to lift flight ban on 9 countries in April, cut quarantine to 7 days for travellersPassengers arrive at the international airport in Hong Kong on Mar 21, 2022. (Photo: AFP/DALE DE LA REY)

HONG KONG— Hong Kong is set to resume international flights from the United States, Britain and seven other countries, the government said Monday (Mar 21) as it announced a loosening of some of the world’s toughest COVID-19 restrictions.

The hotel quarantine period for arrivals from abroad will also be reduced to seven days.

The flight bans, known as a “circuit breaker”, would be lifted from Apr 1.

These were put in place after the highly transmissible Omicron variant emerged in January, with the restrictions initially covering eight countries deemed high-risk – Australia, United States, Britain, Canada, France and India, Pakistan and the Philippines – and later Nepal.

“The circuit breaker … is inopportune now,” Chief Executive Carrie Lam said during a press conference on Monday.

“The epidemic situations in those countries are not worse than Hong Kong’s, and most arrivals did not have serious symptoms. To extend the circuit breaker will add to concerns and anxieties of Hong Kong residents stranded there.”

The current 14-day hotel quarantine for travellers will be reduced to seven days – provided they test negative on the sixth and seventh day of their stay – followed by another seven days of at-home monitoring, although Lam did not specify details.

Schools would resume face to face classes from Apr 19, after the Easter holidays.

Lam said social distancing measures would be eased in phases starting Apr 21. Restaurants may stay open after 6pm for dine-in services – currently banned – while public gatherings can include four people, up from the current two.

Nightclubs, pubs and beaches would be allowed to open in the second phase while people would be allowed to exercise outdoors without a mask. Masks are currently compulsory everywhere outside the home.


Lam’s administration has been excoriated for its handling of the COVID-19 crisis, with critics calling it unprepared despite two years of breathing room due to the low number of cases before Omicron hit in January.

Once the variant broke through, hospital wards were flooded with patients and morgues overcrowded with bodies – leading to a coffin shortage last week.

Hong Kong currently has one of the highest death rates from COVID-19 in the developed world.

Unclear public messaging from the government over mass testing and city lockdown measures has also fuelled bouts of panic-buying – leaving supermarket shelves stripped bare

Known as “Asia’s World City”, Hong Kong has also seen a record exodus of both foreign and local residents, with a net outflow of more than 134,000 people by mid-March.

Travel warnings were also issued by the United States over the potential for children to be separated from parents if they were to test positive for COVID-19 upon arrival.

On Monday, Lam said that a previously floated plan to mass test Hong Kong’s 7.4 million residents was “not appropriate” at this stage, given the city’s limited resources.

“Our current opinion is to suspend it and whether we will do it depends on the development of the epidemic,” the leader said.

Hong Kong’s deepened international isolation and lack of a roadmap to normality have incited complaints from business and diplomatic communities, even prompting some major international banks to accelerate relocations.

A plan to carry out mass coronavirus testing would be put on hold, Lam added, citing experts who said it was not a suitable time.