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  • Japan eases borders for tourists but worries about foreign ‘bad manners’ triggering coronavirus | South China Morning Post

    Japan eases borders for tourists but worries about foreign ‘bad manners’ triggering coronavirus. Relaxing strict Covid measures took months of pressure from travel trade because government feared public backlash if infections spiked. There are concerns visitors who don’t wear masks or use hand sanitiser could spread infections again; against backdrop of economic woes
    Published: 6:03pm, 30 May, 2022
    Japan’s easing of a two-year ban on foreign tourists seeks to balance the enormous economic importance of tourism with concerns that travellers would trigger a Covid outbreak, insiders say.The decision means Japan will allow in a limited number of foreign tourists on package tours starting June 10. Last week a few “test tours”, mainly of overseas travel agents, started to arrive


  • Coronavirus: Japan test tour by 4 Thai people cancelled after Covid infection | South China Morning Post

    Coronavirus: Japan test tour by 4 Thai people cancelled after Covid infection. The traveller was in Oita when his or her infection was confirmed on Monday; three other close contacts have all tested negative and are isolating in a hotel. The small-scale test tour was part of the government’s programme for when Japan continues easing Covid-19 border controls and accepts foreign tourists in Jun
    Published: 5:05pm, 31 May, 2022
    A test tour for inbound travellers in Japan has been cancelled after one of four Thais taking part tested positive for the coronavirus, Japan’s tourism agency has said.The traveller was in the southwestern prefecture of Oita when his or her infection was confirmed on Monday. The three other participants were deemed close contacts but have all tested negative. They are currently isolating in a hotel, the agency said. The route of the infection is unknown


  • Japan to start reopening to foreign tourists from June 10; package tours to two airports | South China Morning Post

    Japan to start reopening to foreign tourists from June 10; package tours to two airportsWill begin with the admission of tourists on guided package tours, allowing international flights to New Chitose airport in Hokkaido and Naha airport in Okinaw Already announced it will double its cap on arrivals from overseas to 20,000 a day starting next month, though it remains far below pre-pandemic levels
    Published: 8:34pm, 26 May, 2022
    Japan is set to allow in some package-tour tourists from overseas starting June 10, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said Thursday, ending a ban that was introduced about two years ago as part of the country’s virus control programme.“Active exchanges between people are the foundation of the economy and society,” Kishida said in a speech at the Future of Asia conference in Tokyo. “From the 10th of next month we will restart the admission of tourists on guided package tours.”He added that preparations would begin to allow international flights to land at New Chitose airport in Hokkaido and Naha airport in Okinawa starting in June.


  • Coronavirus: Japan to ease Covid border controls in June allowing for more overseas arrivals | South China Morning Post

    Coronavirus: Japan to ease Covid border controls in June allowing for more overseas arrivals. Those arriving from about 80 per cent of countries and regions will no longer be required to take virus tests on arrival or undergo quarantine Japan effectively closed its doors to non-resident foreign nationals to prevent a surge in infections driven by the highly transmissible Omicron variant
    Japan will relax its Covid border restrictions from June 1, including by doubling its daily cap on the number of international arrivals allowed to 20,000, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said on Friday.
    The government will also ease Covid-19 testing and quarantine rules for people arriving in Japan, dividing countries and regions into three groups according to the infection situation.Travellers from the lowest-risk “blue” group will be exempt from testing upon arrival in Japan and quarantining at home, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno told a press conference. They will still need to show a pre-departure negative test result.
    Travel sector ‘very happy’ as Japan reopens to tours from 4 countries
    17 May 2022Around 80 per cent of entrants are likely to be from countries and regions that fall into that group, Matsuno said, adding that the breakdowns will be announced next week.People arriving from countries and regions placed in the highest-risk “red” group will be asked to take Covid-19 tests when they enter Japan and stay for three days at quarantine facilities.Those in the remaining “yellow” group need to be tested for Covid-19 upon arrival and stay for three days at home or quarantine facilities, according to the government. But this does not apply to people who have received their third vaccine dose.“We believe [the review] will make the entry of visitors smooth,” he said.
    Ski resorts in Japan bankrupted by Covid-19 ban on arrivals from overseas
    28 Feb 2022Matsuno did not specify when Japan will start accepting foreign tourists again, saying only that preparations are under way to do so.Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has said his government will further relax border controls to bring them in line with other Group of Seven nations in June.
    The review comes as Japan has seen the infection situation stabilise in recent weeks. The government changed its stance on masks, saying Friday that wearing them when outdoors is not always necessary, provided people are not conversing.The number of Covid-19 cases in Japan has been lower than in other G7 members such as Britain, Germany, France and the United States, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.Japan effectively closed its doors to non-resident foreign nationals to prevent a surge in infections driven by the highly transmissible Omicron variant of the coronavirus late last year. The measure drew criticism at home and abroad that it was too strict.In recent months, the government has gradually increased the number of people allowed to enter Japan in stages, with the current daily cap at 10,000.Japan has already said it would allow small groups of tourists on package tours to visit on a trial basis starting this month.


  • Coronavirus: Singapore citizens dashing to apply for passports as borders reopen | South China Morning Post

    Coronavirus: Singapore citizens dashing to apply for passports as borders reopen. The number of passport applications has spiked to more than 7,000 a day, peaking at 14,000 – that compares with about 2,000 a day before the pandemic
    Published: 3:30pm, 14 May, 2022
    The number of passport applications has spiked to more than 7,000 a day, peaking at 14,000, according to the Immigration & Checkpoints Authority, which described the surge as “overwhelming.” That compares with about 2,000 a day before the pandemic, the ICA said. The average wait for processing now is at least six weeks from the application time, it said.
    Asia’s popular tourist destinations from Japan to Thailand are moving to reopen their borders, welcoming back tourists after the latest Covid-19 variant omicron proved to be mild compared to its deadly predecessors. Singapore, itself a well-known attraction, removed pre-departure testing requirements for fully-inoculated visitors from all countries last month.
    Local media reported long, snaking queues at the ICA building where applicants waited for hours to collect their travel documents. “I have a backache now” from standing in line, researcher Ad Maulod was quoted by Channel News Asia as saying while he waited three hours to collect his passport for a trip to Malaysia. The ICA has deployed more resources to process the applications and expanded the queuing areas to cope with large crowds, it said in a statement published earlier this week. “We are doing our best to handle the high demand and our officers are working longer hours during this period,” the government agency said. For two years, more than five millions of Singapore’s residents were stuck on the island with the land area of some 730 square kilometres, or about a quarter the size of Rhode Island, the United States’ smallest state. Business travel, contrary to some expectations in the thick of the pandemic, is coming back. While bookings may not have reached pre-Covid levels, there’s mounting evidence of a rebound, the strength of which is taking some by surprise.
    United Airlines Holdings Inc. Chief Executive Officer Scott Kirby said last month that corporate travel is recovering so rapidly, it “makes us feel really, really confident.” Keith Tan, CEO of the Singapore Tourism Board, said “rumours about the decline of business travel are greatly exaggerated,” while Virgin Australia head Jayne Hrdlicka said there’s a “push to reinvest in relationships.”Bloomberg spoke to three of the world’s top corporate travel managers – American Express Global Business Travel Chief Commercial Officer Andrew Crawley, Ben Wedlock, senior vice-president of global sales for Asia-Pacific at BCD Travel, and FCM Travel Solutions’ managing director for Asia, Bertrand Saillet. (...).”


  • Amid Covid-19 lockdowns, Chinese tourism turns inward, giving rise to camping and suburb tours; or nothing at all | South China Morning Post

    Amid Covid-19 lockdowns, Chinese tourism turns inward, giving rise to camping and suburb tours; Statistics show that Chinese people are still travelling, but they are mostly staying within their city or province And in doing so, spending has fallen off a cliff, with travellers only spending 45 per cent of pre-pandemic levels
    Local tourism made up 40 per cent of all business during the recent Labour Day holiday, marking a “considerable increase” from the same period in both 2021 and 2020, leading online travel agency Ctrip said in a report earlier this week.Depending on regional definitions, local tourism is defined as travel within a city or province.One activity that has grown dramatically in popularity is camping, which has become something of a lifestyle trend for Chinese urbanites. Ctrip searches for the term “camping” surged by 90 per cent on the first day of the holiday, the company said.The spectre of Covid-19 hovers over the changing dynamics, as the potential consequence of getting locked out of China, or their home city, has made international tourism for most Chinese people almost impossible.Lvmama, another e-tourism website, said orders for camping products on its platform grew by 70 per cent compared with the same period last year.Ann Xu, an outdoor enthusiast in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province in eastern China, said: “It seems half of the people in my WeChat contact list went camping this past weekend.”“A few years ago, only outdoor enthusiasts would go camping, but now it has become a leisure and social activity for everybody. I think travel restrictions have catalysed this change,” she said.In Shanghai, which has endured a high-profile lockdown for over a month, some residents have taken camping to an extreme, deciding to take a “holiday” within their complex. Amid the lockdown, many people in Shanghai are only allowed freedom of movement within their building, but they cannot leave the complex.“Spring is so beautiful. We must make full use of it even if we cannot exit our community gate,” said Lily Yang, a woman in Shanghai who had just camped on the ground floor of her building.According to the Ctrip report, other popular options included sightseeing in the suburbs and visiting museums and art exhibits as residents simply cannot travel beyond their city limits.However, despite surges in out-of-the-box trips, the reality is that most people are staying at home.Nationwide, the number of tourist trips over the five-day Labour Day holiday dropped by over 30 per cent from last year, standing at 160 million, according to Ministry of Culture and Tourism data.Tourism revenue dropped by about 43 per cent compared to 2021, standing at 64.68 billion yuan (US$9.7 billion), it showed.Compared to pre-pandemic numbers in 2019, the number of trips dropped by 18 per cent, but Chinese people only spent 44 per cent of what they did before the pandemic.The Ministry attributed the drop to Covid prevention and control policies, which are widely adopted across the country.Dozens of mainland cities have imposed total or partial lockdowns to combat the largest Covid outbreak China has experienced, driven by the Omicron variant.


  • Coronavirus: New Zealand reopens, welcomes back tourists – but not from India or China | South China Morning Post

    Coronavirus: New Zealand reopens, welcomes back tourists – but not from India or China. New Zealand reopened on Monday to about 60 visa-waiver countries, including Singapore, Malaysia and Japan. Tourists from elsewhere are still barred from entry More than 90,000 people booked flights to New Zealand in the seven weeks since the reopening was announced, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said
    Published: 3:15pm, 2 May, 2022
    New Zealand welcomed tourists from the US, Canada, Britain, Japan and more than 50 other countries for the first time in more than two years on Monday after dropping most of its remaining pandemic border restrictions.
    The country has long been renowned for its breathtaking scenery and adventure tourism offerings such as bungee jumping and skiing. Before the spread of Covid-19, more than 3 million tourists visited each year, accounting for 20 per cent of New Zealand’s foreign income and more than 5 per cent of the overall economy.But international tourism stopped altogether in early 2020 after New Zealand imposed some of the world’s toughest border restrictions.A sunny day on the shore of Lake Wanaka in the South Island. International tourism to New Zealand stopped altogether in early 2020 amid the pandemic. Photo: Dreamstime/TNS
    The border rules remained in place as the government at first pursued an elimination strategy and then tried to tightly control the spread of the virus. The spread of Omicron and vaccinations of more than 80 per cent of New Zealand’s 5 million population prompted the gradual easing of restrictions.
    New Zealand reopened to tourists from Australia three weeks ago and on Monday to about 60 visa-waiver countries, including Singapore, Malaysia and much of Europe. Most tourists from India, China and other non-waiver countries are still not allowed to enter.
    Tourists will need to be vaccinated and to test themselves for the virus before and after arriving.“Today is a day to celebrate, and is a big moment in our reconnection with the world,” said Tourism Minister Stuart Nash.
    At Auckland Airport, flights bringing in tourists began landing from early in the morning, coming in direct from places including Los Angeles, San Francisco, Kuala Lumpur, and Singapore.The border reopening will help boost tourism ahead of New Zealand’s upcoming ski season. But the real test of how much the tourism industry rebounds will come in December, when the peak summer season begins in the Southern Hemisphere nation.
    Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said more than 90,000 people had booked flights to New Zealand in the seven weeks since the reopening was announced and 21 international flights were scheduled to land Monday in Auckland.“Our tourism industry have felt the effects of the global pandemic acutely, and are working hard to prepare,” she said.Ardern said there were no immediate plans to ease virus testing and vaccination requirements for tourists


  • Coronavirus: eastern Chinese city ramps up zero-Covid strategy with tests every 48 hours | South China Morning Post

    Coronavirus: eastern Chinese city ramps up zero-Covid strategy with tests every 48 hours. Hangzhou in Zhejiang province has set up around 6,500 testing stations for residents and visitors. Different strategies to handle outbreaks in Shenzhen and Shanghai cited as shaping vigilant approach and routine testing policy
    China’s city of Hangzhou has adopted a frequent Covid-19 testing routine since Thursday to beat the highly transmissible Omicron variant, in line with the country’s “early detection” goal under its dynamic zero-Covid policy.
    The provincial capital of eastern Zhejiang province and home to 12 million people has set up around 6,500 testing stations for residents and visitors to get PCR tested every 48 hours, according to local authorities.
    From Saturday, residents must show their test results to enter their residential areas, offices, public transport, public venues and schools, it added. Those who enter the city should be tested in the 48 hours before arriving.Shanghai fences in residential buildings to combat Covid-19
    Ying Xumin, deputy director of the Hangzhou health commission, said the frequent testing routine was key to detecting infections as early as possible and minimising the risk of spread in public venues.“Hangzhou faces a severe risk of imported cases [from other parts of the country]. The Labour Day [five-day] holiday is around the corner and there will be more movement of people and gatherings.“We launched the routine testing service to secure the hard-won results of Covid-19 control and maintain the normal operations of businesses and life in the city,” he said, adding that 7.4 million people were tested on Thursday.On Friday, the city reported seven new asymptomatic infections. One was an arrival from outside the city identified at the railway station and the rest were detected within local areas already under isolation.Li Bin, vice-minister of the National Health Commission, said on Friday the country aimed to act fast to beat the rapid transmission of Omicron.“The Omicron variant is highly infectious, transmits quickly and often unnoticed, and causes a high proportion of asymptomatic infections,” Li said. “[We] use both rapid antigen and PCR tests to identify infections as early as possible.”He said all local governments should stick to the dynamic zero-Covid policy and control local outbreaks to avoid infections spilling over to other parts of the country.“If certain places do not resolutely adhere to the policy … it might become the ‘transmitter’ and ‘magnifier’ of outbreaks, causing heavy loss of life and property and seriously affecting economic and social development,” he said.“We encourage local governments to improve precision in Covid-19 control to achieve the greatest results with the least cost.”Beijing’s policy is to contain local outbreaks with strict preventive measures, despite much of the rest of the world embracing a live-with-the-virus mentality.There have been calls from foreign businesses to resume international exchanges and ease pressure on the industrial and services sectors, both hit hard by the tough control measures.China’s insistence on zero-Covid has been controversial as people question the high cost of the social and economic disruption.China’s harsh Covid restrictions leave thousands of migrant workers in limbo. Huang Yanzhong, a senior fellow for global health at the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations, said Hangzhou’s frequent testing routine used PCR tests, instead of at-home rapid antigen tests, so authorities could be sure they knew the test results under a centralised system and could follow up with isolation orders.
    “The country is adjusting its zero-Covid policy, drawing on the experience of Shanghai’s outbreak. The megacity did not act fast enough to nip the crisis in the bud, causing huge social and economic costs.
    “Other places are now learning from Shenzhen which launched mass testing once a few cases were identified to stop the spread as early as possible.
    “That also means all places have to be vigilant and on high alert all the time to prepare for the return of the virus and make testing part of their routine, even if there is no local outbreak,” Huang said, adding that the practice might continue over the next six months, and become more widely adopted nationwide. In March, China approved Covid-19 rapid antigen tests for public use and it adopts a dual testing strategy – both PCR and RAT – for “early detection”. PCR test samples are tested for viral genetic material in a laboratory and results usually take between one day and a few days.


  • Mainland Chinese care worker at Covid-19 holding centre found dead in Hong Kong hotel | South China Morning Post

    Coronavirus Hong Kong
    Mainland Chinese care worker at Covid-19 holding centre found dead in Hong Kong hotel. A woman who came to Hong Kong from mainland China to look after elderly coronavirus patients as a temporary care worker at a holding centre was found dead in her hotel room on Thursday.
    According to police, emergency personnel were called to B P International hotel in Tsim Sha Tsui at about 1.30pm after the woman was found unconscious.A force spokesman said she was certified dead at the scene by paramedics.The Social Welfare Department confirmed on the same day that the woman was one of about 760 care workers temporarily hired from the mainland to look after infected elderly residents in the city’s holding centres. It said she arrived in Hong Kong in March.
    A spokesman for the department said it was saddened to learn of the death and had contacted the woman’s family to help arrange her affairs. He added there were no further details as the case was being investigated by police.
    Actor’s death in quarantine sparks call for review, Hong Kong logs 413
    The Post has learned that the woman was Zhang Xiu, aged 50, who came to Hong Kong from Guangxi province.A source said Zhang had told her colleagues on Thursday morning that she was feeling unwell.He said Zhang’s colleagues had visited her hotel after she failed to report for duty. Staff helped them access the room after they received no answer from her and found the 50-year-old unconscious in the bathroom, the source added.
    She had stayed in the hotel since March 7 and worked at the Choi Wing Road Sports Centre in Kwun Tong, which had been turned into a holding centre for elderly coronavirus patients, according to another source.
    The residential care industry has been considered one of the hardest-hit sectors by the city’s fifth wave of infections, with hundreds of facilities having previously reported outbreaks among staff and residents.
    Welfare sector urges John Lee to better support care homes for elderly
    26 Apr 2022On March 1, the Social Welfare Department announced it planned to hire 1,000 staff from the mainland to fulfil roles for three months at holding centres, community isolation facilities and quarantine camps to care for elderly residents, people with disabilities and other potential or confirmed cases.Secretary for Labour and Welfare Law Chi-kwong revealed at the time that some care homes had seen almost all their staff and residents infected, adding that the industry was facing a manpower shortage as more employees either caught Covid-19 or had to be quarantined.
    The workers can earn as much as HK$31,000 (US$3,970) a month if they are willing to take care of residents in isolation. Staff are expected to provide basic nursing care such as feeding elderly patients who are confined to their beds.Both Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor and operators of care homes had previously said the recruitment process had faced challenges as candidates were concerned about Hong Kong’s Covid-19 outbreak. The lockdowns across the border also presented complications.


  • Don’t separate Covid-positive children from parents, Western diplomats ask China | South China Morning Post

    Don’t separate Covid-positive children from parents, Western diplomats ask China. French and British envoys raise concerns about practice in Shanghai as city tries to stop spread of coronavirus. Western diplomats have expressed concern about separating children from their parents as part of Covid-19 curbs in Shanghai as the government tries to stamp out the spread of the virus.The city has been separating Covid-positive children from their parents, citing epidemic prevention requirements, which has prompted a widespread public outcry.Diplomats from more than 30 countries have written to the Chinese foreign ministry urging authorities not to take such a step.“We request that under no circumstances should parents and children be separated,” the French consulate in Shanghai said in a letter addressed to the foreign affairs office in the city on Thursday.
    Shanghai locks down western bank of Huangpu River as Covid fight continues in China’s biggest city
    In a separate letter to the Chinese foreign ministry dated the same day, the British embassy in Beijing said it was concerned by “recent instances when local authorities have sought to separate minors who tested positive for Covid-19 from their parents” and requested assurances that this would not happen to diplomatic staff.The French consulate and British embassy both said they were writing the letters on behalf of European Union states as well as other countries including Norway, Switzerland, Australia and New Zealand.They said they had heard about difficulties caused by Shanghai’s lockdown, which the city started carrying out in two stages starting March 28.The French consulate letter said asymptomatic or mild cases should be sent to “a specialised isolation environment with staff who can communicate in English”.Currently, asymptomatic cases are sent to centralised quarantine centres, some of which have been described as unsanitary and overcrowded.The British embassy said there were concerns over the conditions and lack of privacy in recently deployed mobile hospital facilities, adding that isolating in diplomatic housing was a “preferable solution and consistent with our Vienna Convention privileges”.“The British consulate general in Shanghai has been raising its concerns about various aspects of the current Covid policies in relation to all British nationals in China, with the relevant Chinese authorities,” a consulate spokesman said.
    Locked down in Shanghai: China’s biggest city grapples with its worst Covid outbreak since 2020The French consulate declined to comment on the letter. The Australian consulate general in Shanghai, which was cited in the letters, also declined to comment but said it had been engaging with local authorities on the Covid-19 restrictions.The United States did not appear as a signatory on either letter.However, the US consul general in Shanghai, Jim Heller, told members of a private chat group for US citizens that the consulate had been underscoring many of the concerns raised by the European letter with the Shanghai government.A US embassy spokesman declined to comment on Heller’s remarks but said the treatment of embassy staff in the Covid-19 pandemic was “job one” and that the embassy was engaging on Covid-related policy with the Chinese government.Other countries, such as Norway, Switzerland and New Zealand, which were mentioned in the letters, did not respond to requests for comment.
    The Chinese foreign ministry also did not respond to a request for comment.On Monday, Shanghai official Wu Qianyu said children could be accompanied by their parents if the parents were also infected, but separated if they were not, adding that policies were still being refined.
    China has sent the military and thousands of health workers into Shanghai to help carry out Covid-19 tests for all of its 25 million residents.
    Cases continued to rise on Monday amid a city lockdown, in one of the country’s biggest-ever public health responses.


  • Coronavirus: Hong Kong confirms 6,646 new cases as government considers mass at-home testing exercise to help ‘gauge infection situation’ | South China Morning Post

    Coronavirus: Hong Kong confirms 6,646 new cases as government considers mass at-home testing exercise to help ‘gauge infection situation’
    A source says the mass at-home testing will serve as a ‘voluntary and supplementary’ measure, and will not replace an official universal screening exercise

    Published: 3:06pm, 31 Mar, 2022

    Updated: 5:23pm, 31 Mar, 2022
    Why you can trust SCMP
    Volunteers pack kits of rapid Covid-19 tests, masks and medicine set to be distributed to Hong Kong residents at Tai Wo Hau Sports Centre. Photo: Dickson Lee
    Volunteers pack kits of rapid Covid-19 tests, masks and medicine set to be distributed to Hong Kong residents at Tai Wo Hau Sports Centre. Photo: Dickson Lee

    Hong Kong residents may be asked to take part in mass at-home Covid-19 testing via kits set to be distributed from Saturday in order to help the government better gauge the current epidemic situation, the city’s leader has said.Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor floated the possibility at her regular coronavirus press conference on Thursday after being asked whether the government still planned to pursue a controversial compulsory universal testing drive.“Since we are distributing rapid antigen tests in the anti-epidemic service bags, we would like to explore whether we can make use of this convenient and accurate tool … so that we can gauge the infection situation,” Lam said, referring to packs of supplies and medicine that will be handed out to all Hong Kong residents.Lam added that the current daily caseload, though on the decline, was still too high to conduct universal screening via government-run testing sites, noting the healthcare system was unlikely to be able to cope with the new infections the exercise might uncover.The city confirmed 6,646 new coronavirus infections on Thursday, the sixth consecutive day the caseload was below the 10,000 mark. Another 119 deaths were reported, including 17 fatalities that had not been taken into account due to a backlog.
    The overall tally of confirmed cases since the start of the pandemic stands at 1,157,415, while the total number of related deaths has reached 7,825.
    The government will begin distributing the anti-epidemic service bags – containing 20 rapid tests, 20 KN95 masks and two boxes of proprietary traditional Chinese medicine – to nearly 3 million households on Saturday. Lam said it would take about a week to hand out all the packages.
    Details of the proposed mass rapid testing exercise would be announced if and when the plans were confirmed, Lam added.A source said the mass rapid testing, which would be undertaken by residents on a single day, would serve as a “voluntary and supplementary” measure, and would not replace the universal screening exercise. The source noted that experts had suggested the best time for the universal screening would be when daily caseloads were consistently in the three-digit range.
    The government announced a suspension of the universal screening exercise on March 21. Lam said mainland Chinese and Hong Kong experts had concluded that public resources should not be spent on such an exercise when the daily caseload remained high. Instead, it should be carried out towards the end of the current fifth wave of infections.Lam later told lawmakers she did not have a crystal ball to predict when the testing could be rolled out.Jack Chan Jick-chi, acting secretary for home affairs, told a radio programme on Thursday that each Hong Kong household would be entitled to one package of supplies, assuming it had three to four members, while larger ones would be allowed to collect additional kits as needed. Special arrangements would be made for people sharing living spaces in subdivided units.He added that volunteers and civil servants deployed to package and distribute the kits would be required to be vaccinated and to conduct rapid Covid-19 tests before performing their duties.
    At Thursday’s press conference, Lam also said Covid-19 patients from elderly care homes with mild or no symptoms could be sent directly to government isolation centres rather than the emergency wards of public hospitals. The move was aimed at relieving pressure on the city’s overburdened public healthcare system.Among the six isolation facilities, the Kai Tak Holding Centre is the largest, with 1,200 beds. All the facilities are able to prescribe the oral anti-Covid drugs molnupiravir and Paxlovid.
    Traditional Chinese medicine practitioners dispatched from the mainland would also be on hand to treat symptoms and facilitate patients’ recovery, Lam said.Meanwhile, the city will lift flight bans on nine high-risk countries on Friday to allow fully vaccinated Hong Kong residents to return. The quarantine period for ­arrivals to the city will also be slashed from two weeks to one, provided they test negative on their sixth and seventh days of isolation.Lam said on Thursday that an interdepartmental meeting would be conducted to ensure that testing and transport for new arrivals went smoothly, after noting the day before that the number of incoming travellers was expected to jump from around 300 a day to some 2,000.
    “We have made full preparations for their return, we hope they have a pleasant trip back to Hong Kong,” she said.


  • South Koreans rush for holidays in US, Europe, Southeast Asia as Covid-19 rules ease | South China Morning Post

    South Koreans rush for holidays in US, Europe, Southeast Asia as Covid-19 rules ease
    The boom started after March 21 when South Korea lifted a seven-day quarantine for fully vaccinated travellers arriving from most countries
    Airlines and travel agencies have reported exploding demand for routes to Hawaii, Saipan and Guam, as well as some destinations in Europe and Southeast Asia. After spending two years being socially distanced in his home country of South Korea, Kim Hoe-jun booked a last-minute flight to Hawaii, where he had enjoyed his honeymoon six years ago, giving in to his craving for overseas travel.“I bought the ticket just a week ago, but it was rather a no-brainer. It felt like I was making up for those two years not being able to go abroad often as I used to before Covid,” he said, before boarding the plane from Incheon International Airport on Friday.
    Vaccinated and boosted, Kim and his wife are among South Koreans joining in a rush for “revenge travel” – a term that has been trending on social media as people scramble to book overseas trips that were delayed by coronavirus restrictions.
    The boom started after March 21 when South Korea lifted a seven-day mandatory quarantine for fully vaccinated travellers arriving from most countries. The restriction had been eased last year but was reimposed in December as the highly infectious Omicron variant spread.The country has largely scrapped its once-aggressive tracing and containment efforts despite a record Covid-19 wave, joining a growing list of countries across the Asia-Pacific which have eased quarantine rules, including Japan, Australia, New Zealand and Singapore.
    Singapore starts ‘living with the virus’, shedding masks outdoors and allowing quarantine-free entry South Koreans now appear more ready to travel. Polls showed people are less worried about the implications of catching the virus, and increasingly see its prevention as out of their hands.
    Sales of overseas flight tickets on 11st, an e-commerce unit of SK Telecom Co Ltd, South Korea’s top mobile carrier, rose more than eight-fold compared with a year before between March 11, when the lifting of quarantine was announced, and March 27, the company said.
    Saipan and Guam, both of which have travel lane pacts with South Korea, also offer free Covid-19 testing and pay for quarantine expenses if a traveller tests positive. Each South Korean national visiting Saipan even receives US$100 in “travel bucks” incentives to spend at businesses there.
    The tour arm of online retail giant Interpark Corp reported a 324 per cent growth in flight bookings for Oceania between March 11-22 from the same period of 2021, a 268 per cent increase for Southeast Asia and 262 per cent more bookings for Europe.On Sunday, the company sold a record 5,200 Hawaii tour packages within just 70 minutes. CJ Corp’s home shopping unit said it received some 2,800 orders for a Spain and Italy trip in one hour on Sunday, totalling 15 billion won (US$12.41 million), days after garnering 9 billion won from its sales of a Hawaii package.
    “The surge reflects growing customer sentiment that an end of Covid travel curbs might be in the offing after the mandatory quarantine was lifted,” said Lee Jeong-pil, general manager of CJ’s home shopping unit. Lee Tae-woo, a 36-year-old frequent traveller to Japan, said he had changed some money into yen, taking advantage of the currency’s sharp decline and hoping to jump on the revenge travel bandwagon soon. Though Japan has yet to allow tourists back in, it has reduced the quarantine period for arrivals for business and other purposes to three days from seven this month, and signalled further easing of travel curbs. “It’s been a long wait, and I’m ready to go back as soon as they finally open up again, and visit my favourite coffee roastery and enjoy the night view from Shibuya station,” Lee said, referring to Tokyo’s bustling central district


  • Coronavirus: Hong Kong shuts public beaches amid Covid-19 surge, but frustrated residents ask: why can’t we swim and relax? | South China Morning Post

    Coronavirus: Hong Kong shuts public beaches amid Covid-19 surge, but frustrated residents ask: why can’t we swim and relax?Government closes all public beaches amid outcry from mainland Chinese online users over social-distancing measures perceived as lax Residents react with mixed emotions, with one restaurant manager urging authorities to give clear deadline to allow businesses to adjust
    Residents have expressed their frustration at a decision by Hong Kong authorities to close all public beaches amid a Covid-19 outbreak, while some have called it necessary as a result of frequent social-distancing violations.On Wednesday, the government announced that all public beaches would close from Thursday until further notice to reduce social gatherings and the risk of virus transmission. The measure kicked in as the city confirmed 21,650 new coronavirus cases.A source had said the decision followed the circulation of posts on Chinese social media platforms Weibo and WeChat which compared scenes of Shenzhen’s empty streets and closed subway stations with Hong Kong’s crowded beaches and malls.
    The posts went viral among mainland online users, who criticised Hong Kong’s looser social-distancing measures, contrasting these with the lockdown across the border. They blamed Hongkongers for contributing to the surge in cases on the mainland.


  • Coronavirus Hong Kong: use mainland Chinese help well, plan for next stage of battle and ensure social stability, top Beijing official tells local government | South China Morning Post

    Coronavirus Hong Kong: use mainland Chinese help well, plan for next stage of battle and ensure social stability, top Beijing official tells local governmentHong Kong and Macau Affairs Office director Xia Baolong says city still facing uphill battle against pandemic. At high-level meeting in Shenzhen, he calls on local administration to plan for next phase of crisis, with focus on ‘three reductions’, referring to infections, severe cases and deaths
    Hong Kong’s government should distribute aid from the central government properly and plan for the next stage of the Covid-19 pandemic in an orderly way, a top Beijing official has told a high-level meeting in Shenzhen on the health crisis facing the financial hub. Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office (HKMAO) director Xia Baolong also emphasised the need for local officials to safeguard social stability, according to the Hong Kong China News Agency. He was chairing the meeting on Wednesday after flying back to Shenzhen from the capital where he attended the annual “two sessions” of the nation’s parliament and top advisory body.Lau Siu-kai, vice-president of semi-official Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies think tank, said Beijing believed reforms were needed after the pandemic was under control, such as improving the government’s managerial abilities and the leadership capabilities of the executive branch.It was the ninth meeting of the tripartite coordination task force, involving Hong Kong and mainland officials, and the second in less than a week, with the last one taking place on March 11.Xia said in the latest meeting that the current epidemic situation in the city was still serious and the fight against the virus has remained an uphill battle.
    During the meeting, he also spoke via video link with teams sent to assist Hong Kong and called on the local government to speed up the distribution of Chinese medicine, boost the occupancy rate of isolation facilities and make good use of the medical professionals sent from the mainland.
    Xia went on to instruct the local administration to plan ahead for the next phase of the outbreak, focusing on the strategy of “three reductions, three focuses and one priority”.The first element refers to reducing infections, severe cases and deaths. The second involves three specific areas of focus: boosting vaccinations among the elderly and enforcing closed-loop staffing arrangements in care homes; strengthening the work of clinics, hospitals and isolation facilities; and identifying high-risk premises for children, seniors and the disabled, and stepping up protections there.
    Think tank vice-president Lau said Xia’s remarks not only focused on offering guidance and supervision, but also showed that Beijing would hold Hong Kong’s government accountable for failing to control the epidemic.
    “There is a need for improvement of our health care system and formulating contingency plans within the government on how to deal with such kinds of crisis.”Central authorities would look at improving the local government’s managerial abilities and its executive role, Lau said, adding the city needed to “prepare well for any upcoming sixth or seventh waves”.
    Lau suggested it was very rare that Beijing had to be so “hands-on” on Hong Kong’s issues, calling it proof that the city government’s poor handling of the outbreak had already greatly affected national interests.


  • Coronavirus: Japan to relax strict border controls | South China Morning Post

    Coronavirus: Japan to relax strict border controls; Thai couples urged to mask up for Valentine’s Day sex
    Japan’s government will start accepting more than 1,000 foreign workers and students a day this month. Elsewhere, anti-vaccine rallies picked up in numbers in New Zealand and Australia, with protesters blocking roads and disrupting public eventsJapan will ease its strict border controls, beginning with foreign workers and students, the Nikkei reported.The government will start accepting more than 1,000 people a day this month and will gradually raise the cap to several thousand.“We will take into account accumulated scientific knowledge on the Omicron variant, changes in infection conditions inside and outside Japan, and other countries’ border control measures,” Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters in Tokyo.
    Kishida’s remarks followed criticism of the entry ban from many academic and business leaders. The measure has prevented international students from entering Japan, prompting some to consider alternatives such as South Korea.The business community, which is facing a chronic labour shortage, has asked for the ban to be lifted.The controls, put in place in late November as the Omicron variant started to spread, are by far the strictest among the Group of Seven nations.


  • Coronavirus: New Zealand braced for more variants after Omicron, PM says; Malaysia set for March reopening to foreigners | South China Morning Post

    Malaysia set for March reopening to international visitors
    Malaysia’s government advisory council has agreed to reopen the nation’s borders to international visitors as early as March 1, without requiring travellers to undergo compulsory quarantine, Malaysiakini reported.
    Travellers who enter Malaysia need to conduct a Covid-19 test before departure and on arrival, the report cited National Recovery Council Chairman and former prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin as saying. The NRC met earlier today. The government must set a definite timeline to open the borders, Muhyiddin was quoted as saying in the local media last week. In the NRC meeting held in January, a committee comprising the Health Ministry was formed to map out the way forward, he said.
    Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin on February 3 said his ministry will recommend to the government to open borders only after the nation’s booster vaccination rate improves. The ministry is still discussing the threshold values that it is comfortable with in regard to vaccination for children and booster shots for adults, he said. Nearly 80 per cent of Malaysia’s total population has been double jabbed, with more than 53 per cent of adults having received booster shots.The Southeast Asian nation’s borders have remained largely closed since the first lockdown was imposed in March 2020, save for citizens returning home, students, permanent residents and businessmen. Malaysia recently resumed the vaccinated travel lane with Singapore, and has agreed to begin a travel corridor with Indonesia early this year.


  • Coronavirus: New Zealand braced for more variants after Omicron, PM says | South China Morning Post

    Coronavirus: New Zealand braced for more variants after Omicron, PM says;
    Updated: 2:50pm, 8 Feb, 2022
    The Covid-19 pandemic will not end with the Omicron variant and New Zealand will have to prepare for more variants of the virus this year, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Tuesday in her first parliamentary speech for 2022.Ardern’s warning came as hundreds of protesters gathered outside the parliament building in the capital Wellington, demanding an end to coronavirus restrictions and vaccine mandates. Ardern’s government has enforced some of the toughest pandemic restriction in New Zealand for the last two years, as the government tried to keep the coronavirus out.
    But it also angered many who faced endless home isolation, and tens of thousands of expatriate New Zealanders who were cut off from families back home as the borders remained sealed. The measures have also been devastating for businesses dependent on international tourists. Ardern’s approval ratings plummeted in the latest 1News Kantar Public Poll released last month, as the public marked her down for the delays in vaccinations and in removing restrictions. Hundreds of anti-vaccine mandate and anti-government protesters gathered outside the parliament demanding an end to all pandemic restrictions, part of a series of protests undertaken in recent months. The mostly unmasked protesters that converged on Wellington on Tuesday had driven from around the country, and their vehicles clogged the capital’s streets for hours as they got out to meet and speak on parliament’s forecourt. The government said last week that the country will reopen its borders to the rest of the world in phases only by October.Omicron cases in the country have been steadily rising since some of the social distancing measures were eased recently. New Zealand recorded its largest ever one-day case number with 243 cases on Saturday.
    Ardern told Radio New Zealand that the country’s Omicron peak could be in March with daily cases ranging between 10,000 to 30,000.


  • Coronavirus in China: travel restrictions should continue to avoid a resurgence, researchers say | South China Morning Post

    Coronavirus in China: travel restrictions should continue to avoid a resurgence, researchers say. A key to controlling the pandemic lies in the development and widespread use of vaccines that are more effective in preventing infection, says research paper China’s continuous pursuit of the zero-Covid policy has come under scrutiny for its high social and economic costs
    Chinese researchers said allowing for the movement of people to Covid-zero regions like China would result in 234.2 million infections and 2 million deaths within a year. The key to controlling Covid-19 lies in the development and widespread use of vaccines that are more effective in preventing infection, according to a research paper published in China CDC Weekly, a bulletin of the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention.
    China has strictly enforced its “zero-Covid” policy with the use of tight border controls and lockdowns as it battles the highly infectious Omicron variant while hosting the Winter Olympics in Beijing.Across China, 45 new local Covid-19 cases were reported on Sunday, a rise from the low of nine cases last week during the Lunar New Year holiday.
    Are Hong Kong’s Covid-19 defences starting to collapse?
    Based on previous studies of vaccine effectiveness against infection in Britain and Chile, the researchers found that the baseline efficacy – indicated by efficacy against infection, against symptomatic disease and against death – was 30 per cent, 68.3 per cent and 86 per cent, respectively.Even if the vaccination rate reached 95 per cent, the paper said, allowing for transregional movement would result in 234.2 million infections and 2 million deaths within a year in unaffected regions.
    “No matter how effective the vaccine was, it could not eliminate Covid-19 in Covid-zero regions, i.e., regions with strong national commitments to suppressing Covid-19 transmission such as China,” according to the report.
    It said nations should continue to develop vaccines and explore new ways to improve vaccine protection against infection to eliminate Covid-19 at the global level.
    The paper also said that a higher level of vaccine protection would be necessary if the goal was to restore population mobility to the pre-Covid level in 2019. To reduce the annual incidence of Covid-19 to that of influenza, the vaccine’s effectiveness against infection and symptomatic disease needs to be increased to no less than 40 per cent and 90 per cent, respectively.The paper said non-pharmaceutical interventions such as travel restrictions and lockdown should be continued to avoid a resurgence of Covid-19. “In any case, resuming international population mobility should be treated with caution to avoid domestic outbreaks,” it said.
    Liang Wannian, the country’s top government adviser on the coronavirus, said in a recent interview with Hong Kong-based Phoenix Television that it was imperative for China to continue its “dynamic zero-Covid” policy through timely and decisive interventions.However, Liang also said the policy could not be permanent, but its implementation should take into account factors such as changes in the epidemic.
    Most countries have decided to “coexist” with the coronavirus to return to normal economic activity and daily living, while China’s continuous pursuit of the zero-Covid policy has come under increasing scrutiny for its high social and economic costs and sustainability.The spread of the Omicron variant will make China’s success in tackling Covid-19 “look more fleeting” and could undermine its efforts to present itself as a global health leader, wrote Yanzhong Huang, a senior fellow for global health at the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations.


  • Coronavirus: domestic helper shortage continues to plague Hong Kong as number of such workers hits new low | South China Morning Post

    Coronavirus: domestic helper shortage continues to plague Hong Kong as number of such workers hits new low
    Secretary for Labour and Welfare Law Chi-kwong says flight bans as a result of Omicron outbreak cancelled out efforts to make more quarantine facilities available. Number of domestic helpers in city has dropped to 339,451 by the end of December from about 400,000 in January 2020
    The number of domestic helpers in Hong Kong has fallen to 339,451 by the end of December, according to labour chief Law Chi-kwong. Photo: Nora Tam. Hong Kong families struggling amid a shortage of domestic helpers have yet to see the light at the end of the tunnel, after the number of such workers in the past two years hit a new low of about 339,000, the city’s labour chief has said.Writing on his official blog, Secretary for Labour and Welfare Law Chi-kwong said authorities had made progress in finding more quarantine facilities for incoming domestic helpers, before the Omicron coronavirus variant began to affect Hong Kong and Southeast Asia last month.
    “In mid-December, we made headway in increasing quarantine facilities for helpers … but such ‘dawning light’ soon vanished,” he said. “It was because the pandemic situation in the Philippines had rocketed … In early January, more than 40 per cent of 175 Filipino domestic helpers tested positive. It was very shocking.” Law said the number of domestic helpers had decreased in Hong Kong in the past two years, noting that there were about 400,000 of them in the city in January 2020. They mainly come from the Philippines or Indonesia. That figure dropped to 350,050 in November last year, and then to 339,451 by the end of December. It was the lowest figure since at least the end of 2016, when there were 351,513 helpers in Hong Kong. The Post has reached out to the government for pre-2016 statistics.
    From September to November last year, the figure decreased month-on-month by about 1,300 to 1,900. But from November to December, the number fell by more than 10,000.
    Law said he feared the figure indicated that many Filipino helpers could have been left stranded by the flight ban after returning home for the Christmas and New Year holidays, adding the government would closely monitor the situation in both the Philippines and Indonesia. “[In mid-January,] the average number of coronavirus infections in the Philippines peaked at about 35,000 per day. Now it has decreased by about a third, but we don’t know whether it … will reach a low level so that the flights can be resumed,” he said. The pandemic situation in Indonesia was also worsening, albeit at a slower pace than in the Philippines, he added. At the start of the pandemic, domestic helpers were allowed to be isolated for a fortnight in dozens of quarantine hotels for incoming travellers. Authorities later lengthened the quarantine period for all visitors to three weeks, and only designated a few hotels, as well as about 1,000 units in the government-run Penny’s Bay quarantine centre, for arriving helpers. Law said authorities had managed to find more quarantine hotels for incoming helpers in August last year, but the effect was cancelled out as the Penny’s Bay spaces were reserved for other purposes. “Even those domestic helpers who had yet to finish their quarantine had to be moved to the designated hotels,” he noted.
    The Labour Department said on Thursday that apart from the three designated quarantine hotels for incoming helpers, two more facilities – O’Hotel and iclub Ma Tau Wai Hotel – would be made available.
    The hotels will provide an additional 491 rooms, taking the total number of quarantine spaces for arriving helpers to 2,779. More quarantine hotel rooms needed for domestic workers: Hong Kong minister. Mike Cheung, president of the Hong Kong-based Overseas Employment Centre, said Law should consider allowing helpers to be quarantined in other hotels, not just the designated five. “This two-track policy was adopted due to uncertainty about anti-pandemic measures in the Philippines and Indonesia. Now that we can see the domestic helpers are not bringing the coronavirus to Hong Kong, employers should be allowed to book other quarantine hotels,” he argued. But Betty Yung Ma Shan-yee, chairwoman of the Hong Kong Employers of Overseas Domestic Helpers Association, said she was not so sure about relaxing the rules for helpers, especially when the government had recently shortened the quarantine period for all incoming travellers from three weeks to two.
    Latest ban as city braces for a fifth wave of infections leads to frantic scramble among travellers to cancel and rebook flights, hotel rooms Industry figures warn domestic helper shortage will worsen, and if long wait continues, market may move elsewhere. Hong Kong’s two-week flight ban has dashed the hopes of those planning family reunions as well as disrupted plans for incoming domestic helpers, with the Philippines, Britain and the United States among eight countries hit with tightened rules aimed at containing a Covid-19 surge. Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor announced on Wednesday the ban on passenger flights from Australia, Britain, Canada, France, India, Pakistan, the Philippines, and the United States for 14 days until January 21, starting from Saturday. Travellers who were recently in those countries or had transited through them will be barred from returning to the city for two weeks.Government pandemic advisers also warned earlier on Wednesday that a fifth wave of infections had started, calling on authorities to immediately tighten social-distancing rules to cut off up to 10 invisible transmission chains in the community.
    A popular Facebook group for travellers to Hong Kong was flooded with messages following Lam’s announcement, as people scrambled to clarify the rules and rebook tickets. Some residents were looking to do a “wash out”, which means staying for 21 days in a country that has not been banned, before returning to Hong Kong. Some complained they had already changed their flights and hotel bookings numerous times, as airlines have cancelled or suspended routes to Hong Kong in recent weeks. Many speculated that the flight suspension of the eight countries would be extended beyond the current two weeks, pointing to previous examples last year. A 33-year-old investment banker, who asked to remain anonymous, had travelled to Britain on December 18 to visit his parents who live there, rather than asking them to come back to their hometown and face quarantine for 21 days. His wife and baby daughter had already flown out in August. The family had planned to fly back together in January, typically a busy time of the year for his industry. His flight was cancelled and rebooked for January 15, before the suspension was announced. He said while his US firm in Hong Kong was understanding, the situation was not ideal as he was now considering spending 21 days in a third country to return. “I do think things will only get worse and not better in Hong Kong. So my inclination is that the flight ban will be extended, which makes it very difficult, then what do I do?” he lamented. The banker said he knew “a lot” of people from the finance sector who had moved back to their home countries permanently or earlier than they had originally planned, with others considering leaving the city. Hong Kong has stood firm on its zero-Covid stance, aligned with mainland China. “They can’t handle the uncertainty. A lot of them just need to see their family,” he said.


  • Omicron: Hong Kong to shorten its 21-day quarantine requirement for incoming travellers | South China Morning Post

    Omicron: Hong Kong to shorten its 21-day quarantine requirement for incoming travellers
    Move comes after persistent complaints from travellers and companies paying high quarantine costs for employees. Hong Kong will shorten its 21-day quarantine requirement for incoming travellers given the much shorter incubation period of the Omicron variant, the Post has learned.A government source said Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor was expected to make the announcement at 5.30pm on Thursday.The move came after persistent complaints from travellers and companies paying high quarantine costs for employees.Currently, Hong Kong residents returning from 147 countries or places deemed high-risk are subject to 21 days of quarantine at designated hotels. Those arriving from 15 countries must isolate at the Penny’s Bay quarantine facility for four days before completing the rest of their quarantine at a hotel. Unvaccinated residents returning from medium-risk countries are also subject to the same.The isolation periods for vaccinated travellers from medium- and low-risk countries are 14 and seven days respectively. But currently nowhere overseas is deemed low-risk by the Hong Kong government.Hong Kong may set new record for daily confirmed coronavirus infections
    27 Jan 2022. Last June when the pandemic situation had stabilised, the quarantine period for high-risk countries was cut to 14 days for travellers who could produce a positive antibody test. Flights from eight major countries, including Australia, Canada, France, India, Pakistan, the Philippines, Britain and the United States have been banned since the start of the fifth wave of infections, to prevent more imported cases from slipping into the community. Earlier this month, Hong Kong cut the quarantine period of Covid-19 patients’ close contacts from the previous 21 days to 14, citing reasons of pressure on the city’s quarantine facilities and the shorter incubation period of people carrying the Omicron variant.