The National Dawn
Hong Kong, August 24, 2020
International flights arriving Hong Kong via India stopover, besides direct flights from Indian cities, are adding to the spike in coronavirus cases, a review by South China Morning Post said Monday.
At least 44 Covid-19 positive people reached Hong Kong from India despite strict public health restrictions clamped on high-risk countries, the review said.
The study traced 19 cases to Air India’s flight service on August 14. Five other cases arrived on Air India flight from New Delhi on August 11 while eight other cases came from New Delhi a week earlier. This led to Hong Kong authorities imposing a two-week ban on Air India flights to the city.
The Post review of official data noted six other Covid-19 cases that arrived from India originated from Singapore Airlines flight 890 on August 5. A further analysis of travel patterns found six Covid-19 positive people travelled to Hong Kong via Singapore, Doha and Kuala Lumpur in late July and the first 19 days of August, indicating the problem is not limited to direct flights from India.
The number of cases linked to these flights has slowly ticked up as passengers test positive during the city’s mandatory 14-day quarantine period.
An aviation specialist and a health expert have said these revelations raise questions on why authorities targeted only Air India, and whether it was necessary to strengthen pre-flight testing requirements.
Authorities banned Air India from operating flights to Hong Kong until the end of August.
Since July 25, the Hong Kong government has required travellers from high-risk countries – including India, Pakistan, the Philippines, Indonesia and the United States – to secure a negative Covid-19 test with certification and validation within 72 hours of departure.
Hong Kong-based travel operator GC Nanda & Sons Director Poonam Nanda, said the government should tighten its requirements for where passengers were tested to ensure the quality of the results and that they would be accepted for travel.
“The data makes a compelling case to lift restrictions on direct air links provided strict protocols remain and are enforced,” she said.
The agency, which is the largest on the India route, has organised and operated a Covid-19 repatriation flight, and credited its trouble-free operation to the oversight of the Security Bureau for coordinating and managing the returnees.
“It is contradictory to ban direct flights when allowing Indian-originating passengers to slip into Hong Kong via transit flights over Doha, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and others,” Nanda added.
(Aggregated by TND from the original report written by Danny Lee for the South China Morning Post).