Covid China Fears Remain After Hong Kong Lifts Mandates

After a long wait and much talk of “when will China open to meetings?” Hong Kong’s SAR Government has finally announced the lifting of “all mandatory PCR test requirements for inbound travelers on arriving in Hong Kong, as well as the lifting of the Vaccine Pass, which allowed access to specified premises, and other measures. Starting from Dec. 29, inbound travelers to Hong Kong are now only required to present negative results from PCR tests conducted within 48 hours or rapid antigen tests (RAT) within 24 hours.”

However, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has just announced that travelers coming to the U.S. from China, including foreign nationals returning home from The People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the Special Administrative Regions of Hong Kong and Macau, will be required to show a negative Covid-19 test or document of recovery “during the surge in Covid-19 cases in the PRC given the lack of adequate and transparent epidemiological and viral genomic sequence data being reported from the PRC. These data are critical to monitor the case surge effectively and decrease the chance for entry of a novel variant of concern. CDC will continue to monitor the situation and adjust our approach as necessary.”

U.S. Travel Association President and CEO Geoff Freeman issued the following statement on forthcoming policy changes for inbound visitors from China:

“We look forward to welcoming Chinese travelers back to the United States. The Biden administration’s highly targeted Covid testing approach is reasonable and appreciated.”

Officials in Italy have also ordered Covid-19 antigen swabs and virus sequencing for all travelers arriving from China. Testing began on Dec. 26. The first flight to Milan from China found that 35 passengers of 62 onboard were Covid-positive. The second flight tested with 62 out of 120.

Meeting Planners’ Takeaway: It may be too early yet to plan meetings in China. If meeting participants are arriving in the U.S. from China, even if they are U.S. nationals, put safeguards in place for possible positive Covid tests and quarantine time.

Bi-Partisan Barrage of Boos for DOT’s Secretary Pete Buttigieg in Southwestern Snafu

Both sides of the political aisle have been swift to criticize Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary Pete Buttigieg for ineffective leadership in dealing with Southwest Airlines’ recent massive box-blocking of its air corridors throughout the holiday season.

Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) tweeted on Wednesday that “Southwest’s flight delays & cancellations are beyond unacceptable. This is a company that got a $7 billion taxpayer bailout & will be handing out $428 million in dividends to their wealthy shareholders.”

Sanders said that The Department of Transportation “must hold Southwest’s CEO accountable for his greed and incompetence.”

Fox News reported that Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) tweeted, “If @USDOT is serious about addressing Southwest’s recent implosion, it should prohibit its leader @SecretaryPete from flying private. Why wasn’t he aware of these challenges beforehand? Late to the game and out of touch.”

Southwestern Airlines own Pilots Union blamed the issue on “a systemic failure of Southwestern Airlines leaders to modernize, support, and staff its operation…For more than a decade, leadership shortcomings in adapting, innovating, and safeguarding our operations have led to repeated system disruptions, countless disappointed passengers, and millions in lost profits.”

Meeting Planners Takeaway: Do not expect airline madness to be resolved any time soon. Even if your meeting participants are flying other airlines, travel will be affected by issues such as the Southwest holiday fail because the entire U.S. flight system is involved. When travelers get bumped off a carrier, they re-book on other airlines. Give participants the option to rebook themselves at the airport if kicked off a flight and make sure they have all the communication avenues (Twitter, App-push notifications) available to them.