Monday's statement by the U.K. government stated that the country has been rated "extremely risky" due to the "recent rebound in the epidemic situation in the U.K., and the widespread Delta variant virus strain."
The delta variant was first discovered in India and is responsible for more than 95% of COVID-19-related cases in the U.K. British authorities have allowed indoor gatherings and businesses such as restaurants, cinemas, and gyms to reopen. This has caused cases to spike in the last few weeks. Although scientists believe the coronavirus delta variant is more transmissible than other versions, it is not yet clear if it is even more deadly.
The classification prohibits people from flying to Hong Kong for longer than two hours from the U.K.
After a December restriction, this is the second time the Hong Kong government has prohibited flights from the U.K.
Julian Tang, a University of Leicester virologist who worked previously in Hong Kong, stated that the ban is scientifically sound.
He said that the U.K. had never been able to control the virus, and that overconfidence in vaccines is likely to be the reason for this latest wave. It makes perfect sense for Hong Kong not to allow British travelers into Hong Kong.
He stated that previous COVID-19 surges in Hong Kong were small and that export cases from a large unvaccinated population would cause concern.
Tang stated that they want to preserve the beauty of China until they can convince people to get vaccinated. "And that's going take a long time," Tang said. He estimates that at least 80% must be immunized in order to prevent the spread of the delta variant.
This ban is being issued amid rising tensions between China and the U.K. over semi-autonomous Hong Kong. It was once a British colony, but was given to China in 1997.
The U.K. criticizes China for imposing a security law on Hong Kong, tightening its control over its media and saying that Beijing is undermining the city’s autonomy.
A government policy to stop coronavirus variants spreading in Hong Kong prompted the flight ban.
If five or more passengers arrive from the same place and test positive for a specific coronavirus variant or relevant mutation within seven days, then a suspension of passenger flight is ordered.
If 10 or more passengers are found to have the coronavirus through any test, even those performed during quarantine, within seven days, a ban will be triggered.
On Monday, the U.K. reported over 22,000 new coronavirus cases. More than 66% of the population had received at least one COVID-19 vaccination.
Hong Kong, which has for months placed a 21-day quarantine on all arrivals from most countries, and enforced strict social-distancing regulations for its residents, reported three new cases Monday of the coronavirus. Since the outbreak, it has confirmed 11921 cases.
Hong Kong seeks to relax quarantine measures in order to allow more people to fly from the U.K.
Other countries, such as the Philippines and Indonesia, are also subject to flight bans to Hong Kong.
The World Health Organization declared that the delta variant of the virus is the most transmissible and is currently spreading to at least 85 countries.