Hong Kong Eases Travel Restrictions, Cathay Plans Resumptions

The announcement comes as mainland China continues to relax its strict zero-COVID measures.

Credit: Rob Finlayson

Cathay Pacific has welcomed the Hong Kong government’s decision to scrap some of its last COVID-19 restrictions, saying it hopes the move will further help to restore its hub operations at Hong Kong International (HKG).

From Dec. 14, international travelers arriving in the special administrative region of China will be allowed to visit restaurants and bars within their first three days of arrival, ending the previous ‘0+3’ measures that barred visitors from entering certain venues within the first 72 hours. In addition, the territory is also axing a mandatory COVID-19 mobile application.

“The adjustments will help further boost sentiment for travel, especially among inbound visitors, thereby facilitating the resumption of travel activities and strengthening of network connectivity at the Hong Kong aviation hub,” a statement from Cathay Pacific said.

The airline plans to offer about 1.16 million seats across its network in December 2022, up by 30% compared with the previous month. Subsidiary HK Express has also increased capacity by 50.1% to 178,646 seats month-on-month, data provided by OAG Schedules Analyser shows.

Routes to Sapporo, Fukuoka, Penang and Dhaka have resumed in December, while Phuket and Nagoya are among the Cathay Pacific destinations set to restart in January 2023. HK Express has also reinstated flights to Tokyo Haneda, Da Nang and Routes Asia 2023 host Chiang Mai, with services to Jeju and Busan in the pipeline for January.

Cathay Pacific expects to have restored capacity levels to one-third of pre-pandemic capacity by the end of 2022 and hopes to be operating about 70% by the end of next year. Full recovery is anticipated during 2024.

Speaking to Routes at Routes World 2022 in Las Vegas, HKG executive director for airport operations Vivian Cheung said the airport feels confident that traffic will come back—it’s just a matter of time.

“We are now at 15% capacity recovery. Before June, we were between 2-4%. The demand is there, but the supply is slow,” she said.

The further easing of travel restrictions in Hong Kong comes as China also continues to loosen its strict zero-COVID policy. Earlier this month, Beijing ended the need for travelers to undergo testing before domestic flights, as well as removing the requirement for on-arrival checks for regional flights. On Dec. 12, the country also deactivated a phone-tracking app.

Although restrictions for international flights remain unchanged, whereby passengers are required to undergo a PCR test 24 hours before flying and undergo eight days of quarantine on arrival in China, reports in China suggest that the rules will be eased from Jan. 9, 2023, and a ‘0+3’ strategy will be introduced.

OAG data shows there are 910,294 international departure seats from China available during December 2022, up from 752,615 in November. International routes that have returned in recent weeks include China Southern Airlines’ Guangzhou (CAN)-New York John F Kennedy (JFK) service, while Air China is launching a Shanghai (PVG)-Athens (ATH) service.