HONG KONG (BLOOMBERG) – After calling Hong Kong home for 30 years, Tina, an independent mother, decides to leave the city and move to Portugal. But with 10 of its booked flights to Europe canceled over the past year, its setbacks show how Hong Kong’s “zero-Covid-19” policy makes exiting almost as difficult as entering.

Tina is currently booked on a flight to Amsterdam the first week of March and has given notice to her landlord. Along with the stress of another canceled flight wreaking havoc on her plans, she must also avoid catching the coronavirus amid the city’s worst outbreak yet, as being infected could delay her exit for weeks. due to quarantine rules.

After more than two years of Covid-19 restrictions with no end in sight alongside deepening political repression, the ranks of people leaving the Asian financial hub for good are steadily growing – but many are finding that leaving n is not an easy task.

The city’s growing isolation from the rest of the world means they have to juggle canceled flights, astronomical shipping costs and logistical chaos that even forces some to take their pets on private jets.

“I’m completely emotionally overwhelmed,” said Tina, who asked not to be identified by her full name. “If this flight is cancelled, I’m homeless with my dog. If anything goes wrong, it will affect your entire trip planning.”

empty airport

Even as more countries, including regional rival Singapore, relocate to live with the virus and resume travel, Hong Kong has doubled down on ‘zero-Covid-19’. This strategy, which has long required multi-week quarantines for all arrivals, is becoming even stricter as the city battles a spike in infections that has escalated into more than 6,000 daily cases.

Now, as the government plans to test the entire city of 7.5million and seeks to use around 10,000 hotel rooms as government isolation facilities, some are accelerating their departure plans as the threat of being put aside for quarantine is getting stronger. The number of arrivals remained in the mid-hundreds while departures soared to 3,100 a day, levels not seen since Hong Kong added quarantine rules to arrivals in March 2020.

Hong Kong’s top market regulator has warned the city’s development as an international financial center is at risk after the agency lost 12% of its employees last year. A recent report by the city’s European Chamber of Commerce said Hong Kong’s isolation could last until 2024 and it anticipates an unprecedented exodus of foreigners as a result.

Once one of the world’s major transit hubs, Hong Kong has now banned flights from nine countries, including Britain and the United States, and halted passengers transiting from all places except China and Taiwan. The number of air passengers in Hong Kong has fallen to just 1.35 million, the lowest since 1967, and representing a decline of nearly 85% from 2020. Those departing are encountering slim choices when it comes to flights.

While Hong Kong handled up to 1,400 flights a day before the pandemic, only 268 flights passed through the airport on January 31. Options are limited as major airlines have stopped or reduced flights to Hong Kong due to the city’s quarantine rules for crews and sanctions. for airlines carrying too many infected passengers.

Next month, Cathay Pacific Airways has just three scheduled flights to London Heathrow, four to Sydney and none to New York. Prior to the pandemic, Cathay operated more than 100 flights per month to each of these cities.