Hong Kong announced on Monday that it would lift its ban on flights from nine countries on April 1, just one of the restrictions it plans to relax as experts and government officials say the worst of an Omicron-driven wave might have passed.
Hong Kong’s leader, Carrie Lam, said on Monday that vaccinated residents would only have to quarantine for seven days, down from 14, upon arrival from overseas. The isolation for travelers had been one of the strictest in the world and had discouraged many from returning to the Chinese territory of 7.4 million people.
She also suspended plans to have every person in the city undergo P.C.R. testing and moved up a deadline to receive booster shots to May 31. The extra dose will be necessary to enter public places, including supermarkets and shopping malls.
For most of the pandemic, Hong Kong has sealed itself off from the rest of the world and required travelers to quarantine for as long as three weeks in a hotel, mirroring policies in mainland China.
Then, as the Omicron variant spread rapidly across the world early this year, the government banned flights from the United States, Australia, Britain, Canada, France, India, Nepal, Pakistan and the Philippines in an attempt to keep virus numbers close to zero. When flights resume from those nine countries in April, only vaccinated residents will be eligible to return.
Even though the new measures remain some of the strictest in the world, Hong Kong’s approach appears to be diverging slightly from that of mainland China. Two of China’s largest cities, Shanghai and Shenzhen, remain in lockdown, and millions of residents there are required to undergo P.C.R. testing in an effort to bring case numbers back to zero.
More than 5,000 people have died from Covid in Hong Kong, and more than one million cases have been recorded since January. Researchers estimate that nearly half of the city may have been infected by the virus.
The lifting of flight bans comes at the behest of experts, including Gabriel Leung, dean of the University of Hong Kong, who said last month that residents are more at risk of infection from community transmissions than from imported cases.
The Hong Kong government has lurched from one policy to another in tackling the fast-moving Omicron outbreak. Mrs. Lam, the city’s leader, said Monday that she would suspend plans for mandatory Covid testing, weeks after rumors of a concurrent lockdown triggered waves of panic buying and an exodus from the city.
Schools were closed for an early “summer holiday” in February, in part because officials planned to use campuses for mass testing sites. Mrs. Lam said there was no longer a “road map” to conduct mass testing with the outbreak still raging, but she would not rule out that option in the future.