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Hong Kong bans UK passenger flights to help contain virus

HONG KONG: Hong Kong plans to ban all passenger flights from the UK from Thursday to slow the spread of new variants of the coronavirus.
In a statement on Monday it was said that Great Britain had been classified as “extremely risky” due to the “recent upsurge in the epidemic situation in Great Britain and the widespread delta variant strain there”.
More than 95 percent of Covid-19 cases in the UK are of the Delta variant, which was first identified in India. Cases have skyrocketed in the past few weeks as UK authorities eased coronavirus restrictions so indoor meetings and businesses can reopen, including restaurants, cinemas and gyms.
Scientists say the Delta variant is much more transmissible than previous versions of the coronavirus, though it’s not known whether it’s more deadly.
According to the classification, people staying in the UK for more than two hours cannot board passenger flights to Hong Kong.
It is the second time the Hong Kong government has banned flights from the UK following a restriction last December.
Although flights from the UK will be banned from July 1, passengers can still book one-way flights from Hong Kong to London with airlines such as Cathay Pacific and British Airways.
Dr. Julian Tang, a virologist at the University of Leicester who previously worked in Hong Kong, said the ban made scientific sense.
“The UK has never been good at controlling the virus and the over-dependence on the vaccine is likely driving this (latest) wave now,” he said, adding that it made “very good sense” for Hong Kong to travel from the UK to forbid .
He said previous Covid-19 spikes in Hong Kong have been minor and exported cases in a largely unvaccinated population are worrying.
“They want to keep Chinese territory as pristine as possible until they can convince people to get vaccinated,” Tang said. “And that will take a long time.” He estimated that countries must have immunized at least 80% of their populations to stop the spread of the Delta variant.
The ban comes amid mounting tensions between Britain and China over semi-autonomous Hong Kong, which was a British colony until it was handed over to China in 1997.
The UK has criticized China for imposing a national security law on Hong Kong and tightening control over its media, saying Beijing is undermining the city’s autonomy.
The flight ban was triggered by a government implemented policy to prevent the spread of variants of the coronavirus in Hong Kong.
A suspension of passenger flights will be imposed if five or more passengers arriving from a location test positive for a specific variant of the coronavirus or a relevant virus mutation upon arrival within a period of seven days.
A ban is also triggered if a test, including tests carried out during quarantine, confirms that 10 or more passengers in one location are infected with the coronavirus within seven days.
The UK reported more than 22,000 new coronavirus cases on Monday while more than 66 percent of the population received at least one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine.
Hong Kong, which imposed a 21-day quarantine on comers from most countries for months and introduced strict social distancing regulations, reported three new cases of the coronavirus on Monday. A total of 11,921 cases have been confirmed since the pandemic began.
The UK flight ban comes as Hong Kong seeks to ease quarantine measures for most other countries, including the US and Canada.
Several other countries, including the Philippines and Indonesia, are also facing flight bans to Hong Kong.
Last week the World Health Organization said the Delta variant was the “most communicable” variant identified to date and said it is spreading in at least 85 countries.

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