Air India has been banned from flying into Hong Kong for a period of two weeks. The decision was taken after 11 arrivals on an Air India flight tested positive for coronavirus, despite strict preflight testing. The decision has left hundreds of travelers stranded and out of pocket as flights are canceled at the last minute.
Air India banned from Hong Kong
Hong Kong has reportedly banned Air India from flying to the city for a period of two weeks, following the arrival of flights with too many COVID-19 positive passengers onboard. As reported in the South China Morning Post today, the government linked 11 imported cases to an Air India flight from Delhi, which has prompted the harsh action.
The Hong Kong government believes that poor preflight testing for the virus is to blame for the situation. It is the first time an airline has been directly penalized for bringing cases into the city. A government source told the SCMP,
“The fact 11 passengers tested positive on the same flight shows the lab tests back in India are not very reliable. The airline has to do deep cleaning [on its planes] and make sure it won’t happen again on future flights before they can be resumed.”
This news will come as a blow to the thousands of Hong Kong residents who are still stranded in India. Air India has been providing a crucial link to Hong Kong, and was working to repatriate these people, many of whom had waited months to return.
Suspended for two weeks
Air India will now be suspended from flying to Hong Kong from today, August 18th, until August 31st. The government of Hong Kong was able to do this by invoking the Prevention and Control of Disease (Regulation of Cross-boundary Conveyances and Travelers) Regulation.
This law allows officials to prevent an aircraft from landing if they believe passengers onboard to have contracted or to have been exposed to the virus. It is the first time that an airline has received such a ban and brings concerns over the efficacy of the testing being done by Air India.
Eleven passengers arriving from Delhi last Friday tested positive for the coronavirus. This was despite strict virus testing and certification requirements for those people to board. This suggests that either the testing is not adequate, or that the people are contracting coronavirus between the time of a negative test and their arrival in Hong Kong.
Anxious travelers get flights canceled
Since word of the ban emerged late yesterday, Air India has been contacting its customers to cancel subsequent flights. A flight scheduled to take place today was canceled, and further repatriation flights are looking to be in jeopardy.
SCMP reports that another flight was slated for August 21st, as well as two more on the 25th and 28th of the month. At present, none of these will be able to proceed, causing further anxiety for people who have been waiting to travel for months.
Today’s flight had been fully booked, with more than 200 passengers ticketed to fly. Many had traveled from all over India to reach Delhi to catch the flight and were now stranded in the city, awaiting news of their next opportunity to leave. Many will not only be out of pocket for the cost of the flight, which will likely take some time to refund, but also for the nonrefundable quarantine hotel, which has to be booked in Hong Kong.