The Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) “zero-COVID” policy crippled tourism in Hong Kong. The Hong Kong authority now wants to give away 500,000 airline tickets to revive airlines and boost travel. However, the Hong Kong authority must wait for the CCP to ease restrictions.

Fifty-six million tourists visited Hong Kong before the start of the pandemic. However, with the closures, restrictions, and the “zero-COVID” policy of the CCP, the island has not yet recovered. According to BBC, in 2020, 184,000 tourists entered.

In 2020, the Hong Kong Airport Authority bought half a million airline tickets to help airlines during the pandemic. “The purchase is intended to inject liquidity to airlines in advance, while the tickets will be given away to global visitors and Hong Kong residents in the market recovery campaign,” an Airport Authority spokesman told CNN.

Measures taken by Hong Kong during the pandemic turned the former British colony into an isolated archipelago. Entrants were required to stay for 21 days in confinement in a designated hotel and submit several COVID-19 tests, which must be negative.

In 2020, residents had to undergo mandatory confinement in their homes or quarantine centers, and authorities required those confined to wear tracking bracelets. They also needed those entering Hong Kong to wear QR code tracking bracelets.

The COVID epidemic flared up in March this year, local media reported. The emergence of infected people put a tremendous strain on Hong Kong’s healthcare system, one of the best in the world. Some doctors were recounting the plight on social media. Many infected patients were older adults in nursing homes who needed intensive care. Still, due to a shortage of beds and medical staff, several had to be admitted to the hospital and sleep on the floor.

Tough restrictions imposed by the regime had little effect, and since the outbreak in March 2022, the number of infections has risen rapidly. Hong Kong authorities reported one million cases in less than three months and 5600 deaths.

The opening of Hong Kong began slowly; in June, authorities allowed the entry of flights from Australia, Canada, the United States, France, the Philippines, India, Nepal, Pakistan, and the United Kingdom.

The region began relaxing restrictions on travelers on September 26, reducing the mandatory 21-day quarantine at the tourist’s own expense to 3 days. In addition, entrants must comply with compulsory testing every day for a week.

According to the BBC, Prudence Lai, senior analyst at market research firm Euromonitor International, said the free air tickets would help accelerate Hong Kong’s recovery as an international tourist destination.

“Hong Kong’s pre-COVID status represents the market potential for a full recovery,” Lai told the BBC. “However, this largely depends on when mainland Chinese tourists return, as mainland China contributes to more than half of Hong Kong’s arrivals and travel revenue.”

Despite easing restrictions to boost tourism recovery, nearly half Hong Kong’s inbound tourists come from China. China’s “zero-COVID” policy restrictions prevent much of the population from traveling.

As reported by Reuters, tourist travel during the week-long National Day vacation, which began on October 1, was 18.2% lower than last Christmas season.

Travel was 60.7% of the pre-pandemic level, China’s state-run CCTV reported, and tourism revenue fell 44.2% compared to 2019.

Some regions of China were abruptly closed to tourists, and those who had come to enjoy their vacations had to undergo mandatory confinements and testing, according to the CCP’s “zero-COVID” policy orders.

Hong Kong hopes the CCP will ease restrictions

Dane Cheng Ting-yat, executive director of the Tourism Board, will coordinate the advertising campaign to promote the free air ticket giveaway to be launched in 2023.

“Once the government announces that it will remove all Covid-19 restrictions for inbound travelers, we will launch the advertising campaigns for free air tickets,” he said.

“The Airport Authority will finalize the agreement with the airlines. The free air tickets are not all for inbound tourists. Some of them will be given to outgoing travelers, while others will be distributed through travel agencies.”

According to official reports, the number of tourists visiting Hong Kong in 2021 was 91,400, a far cry from the 56 million inbound travelers in 2019.

The consequences of the CCP’s “zero-COVID” policy in Hong Kong have displaced the region from its position as an international airport hub, Willie Walsh, director general of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), told Reuters.

Speaking at a conference held by IATA in Qatar, the organization’s head said China’s “zero-COVID” policy had “devastated” Hong Kong and hit Cathay Pacific airline hard.

“Cathay Pacific is a shadow of its former self as a result. Hong Kong has lost its position as a global hub and will struggle to regain it because other hubs have taken advantage of it,” he said, blaming CCP policies and not the virus.

Willie Walsh added that if China does not ease restrictions by next year, all airlines will suffer the consequences.

“Clearly, it will have an impact on the overall strength of the recovery,” Walsh said.

China experts and analysts are waiting for some signal from the CCP leader to ease the harsh “zero-COVID” policy restrictions and believe that after the 20th Party Congress, Xi should give hints of easing the measures. Recently, however, Xi Jinping, on a visit to Wuhan last June, said that the “zero-COVID” policy is “correct and effective.”

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