Japan eases COVID curbs on flights from Hong Kong after backlash

Hong Kong travellers will be able to fly into three more Japanese airports than previously as measures eased.

Japan has eased COVID-19 restrictions limiting flights from Hong Kong following protests by the Chinese territory’s government [File: Tyrone Siu/Reuters]

Japan has partially eased COVID-19 restrictions limiting flights from Hong Kong to a handful of designated airports following protests by the Chinese territory’s government.

Japan, a popular destination for Hong Kong residents, will now allow travellers from the financial hub to fly into seven Japanese airports, up from four previously.

Tokyo announced on Wednesday that flights from Hong Kong, Macau and mainland China would only be accepted at Tokyo’s Narita and Haneda, Kansai in Osaka and Chubu in Nagoya from Friday amid concerns about the potential emergence of new COVID variants in China.

Under the eased rules, travellers from Hong Kong will also be able to fly into the cities of Chitose, Fukuoka and Naha, provided they have not been to mainland China within the past seven days.

The United States, India, Italy and Taiwan have introduced mandatory COVID tests for arrivals from China amid surging cases in the country following Beijing’s decision to unwind its controversial “zero-COVID” policy.

The United Kingdom is also considering introducing similar measures, according to local media.

Hong Kong’s transport department said on Wednesday it was “greatly disappointed by Japanese authorities’ hasty decision during the peak tourist season” and it had contacted the Japanese side to “solemnly request” a reversal of the decision.

“It is understood that around 250 outbound flights of Hong Kong airlines will be affected between December 30, 2022, and the end of January 2023, affecting around 60,000 passengers,” the department said in a statement. “Among them, about 4,000 are tour group travellers. A total of over 150 tour groups involved are affected by Japan’s decision concerned.”

Hong Kong had some of the world’s toughest and long-lasting COVID curbs throughout the pandemic, including a policy of mandatory hotel quarantine that lasted two and a half years.

The Chinese territory on Wednesday scrapped most of its last remaining pandemic restrictions, including COVID rests for arrivals and vaccine passes for venues such as restaurants and bars.

Japan also had some of the strictest restrictions on travel during the pandemic, only fully lifting a ban on foreign arrivals in October.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies