Covid rules shutting down Hong Kong's aviation industry: Qatar Airways boss

Hong Kong (AFP) – Hong Kong's strict adherence to a zero-Covid strategy is damaging the hub's aviation industry and "killing" Cathay Pacific, a major shareholder in the city's home carrier told local media.


Following Beijing's lead, Hong Kong has maintained some of the world's strictest quarantine measures and travel curbs, which has kept the city coronavirus-free but internationally isolated.

Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker took issue with a border-control rule that temporarily bans airlines that have brought in infected passengers.

"You can’t just shut the aviation industry (down) because somebody got infected coming in (on) someone’s aeroplane," he told the South China Morning Post.

Al Baker added that he was "a little disappointed" that Hong Kong has remained closed, and he had expected a major part of Cathay's fleet to be flying again.

Qatar Airways is Cathay's third-largest shareholder, with a 9.6 percent stake purchased for HK$5.16 billion ($661 million) in 2017.

Under Hong Kong's rules, if an airline brings in too many infected passengers on a particular route, it is banned from flying that route for two weeks.

Those rules have been tightened over fears of the Omicron variant, which Hong Kong has recorded 14 cases of as of Friday.

Qatar Airways has been banned five times since November 2020, according to the SCMP.

Last month, British Airways announced it was suspending Hong Kong flights after crew members were required to quarantine following a positive Covid test among the staff.

Earlier this month, AFP reported that Cathay has been hit by a wave of pilot resignations, with employees citing exhaustion and growing resentment.

Some Cathay flights operate on a closed-loop system, requiring pilots to spend weeks shuttling within plane-to-hotel bubbles to avoid triggering quarantine when they return.

Global delivery giant FedEx said last month that it would relocate its pilots overseas and shut down its crew base in Hong Kong, citing the city's anti-coronavirus policies.