Hong Kong completes third track as pandemic keeps city isolated

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Hong Kong (AFP)

Hong Kong marked the completion of a third runway at its airport on Tuesday at a time when the once thriving international travel hub remains cut off from most countries of the world.

City leader Carrie Lam presided over a completion ceremony for the 3.9-kilometer track, which took five years to build on reclaimed land.

Thanks to its location and relatively flexible entry conditions, Hong Kong has long been home to one of the busiest international airports in the world.

But it faces growing competition from its regional rival, Singapore, as well as rapidly expanding airports in mainland China.

The city’s reputation as a travel hub was also shaken by months of political turmoil in 2019, which at one point crippled the airport, and China’s subsequent crackdown on dissent.

The business center currently remains inaccessible to most people during the coronavirus pandemic, as it maintains some of the strictest quarantine measures in the world.

Almost all newcomers must undergo a mandatory one to three weeks quarantine in hotels, a move that has kept the coronavirus at bay but hammered the travel industry and left the city isolated.

The construction of new runways often meets strong opposition from environmental groups in Western countries, but the expansion of the Hong Kong airport has attracted little protest.

Before the coronavirus, the two runways were already operating well beyond their capacity to receive and send 420,000 flights per year.

The third runway is expected to enter service sometime in 2022.

It is not known whether Hong Kong will have relaxed its travel restrictions by then.

Despite plentiful supplies, the city has one of the worst COVID-19 vaccination rates in the industrialized world and the government has not given any details on when it could come to life with the coronavirus.

International businesses are increasingly frustrated, with the European Chamber of Commerce having recently warned that residents are “endlessly trapped”.

But last week, Lam doubled down on his zero-Covid policy and said opening a trip with the Chinese mainland was more important than doing the same for the rest of the world.

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