Flight ban resets HK’s zero cases goal

Considering the high population density in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and the rapidity with which the Omicron variant of the novel coronavirus spreads, any infection might rapidly become several then many and soon hundreds even thousands without effective control.

That is why the HKSAR government announced on Wednesday that it was banning flights from eight countries, which will take effect from Jan 8 to 21, so as to control the recent rise in the number of infections in the SAR.

This is the right decision. Having stuck to a "zero infections strategy" for months, the government has been able to generally keep the virus at bay and protect the 7 million Hong Kong residents. Yet, like the Chinese mainland, it has faced heavy pressure to prevent imported cases from enabling the virus to gain a foothold, as the situation has not been put under an effective control in the West. The most recent spikes in infections in many countries because of the emergence of Omicron highlights how high the pressure is.

According to reports, it was a crew member from Cathay Pacific Airways, who broke his home quarantine by visiting restaurants, that caused the most recent spread of Omicron infections in the SAR. The virus spread from him to at least five more individuals and led to over 300 people being quarantined.

The HKSAR government has heavily criticized the company, saying such quarantine "violations are totally unacceptable".

Of course, the banning of flights means some airlines might face losses, but the profits of the airlines are nothing compared with the lives and health of the 7 million Hong Kong residents. Human lives, not money, should come first. And, of course, the most effective way of reviving air travel is to bring the pandemic under control.

According to the latest information update on the official website of the HKSAR government, Hong Kong saw 37 imported cases and one local infection on Wednesday. That number shows the pressure Hong Kong faces in preventing imported cases, and the necessity for the ban on flights from countries where Omicron is running wild. Banning the flights from the eight countries is a necessary step to return to the goal of zero cases.

The quickest way for the airlines to see better days is for them to ensure that when the ban ends their flight crews strictly adhere to the prevention and control requirements and countries work together to try and prevent the virus crossing borders.