The hundreds of Hong Kong residents stranded in Britain since December by a sudden, unprecedented ban on flights might not attract much sympathy. The pandemic has claimed almost three million lives and many have endured much greater suffering. But last week’s mad scramble for seats on the first two chartered flights to bring them home is the latest frustration in a stressful experience. Those trapped include students, teachers, the elderly, families with young children, pregnant women, professionals and businesspeople. Residents battled for places on the Cathay Pacific flights, despite the £900 (US$1,235) cost of an economy ticket. The booking site crashed and many were left disappointed. Those lucky enough to secure seats must spend three weeks at a designated hotel when they return later this month. The reason for the ban, according to the government, is the need to keep new variants of Covid-19 out of the city. That is a concern we all share. But it is difficult to understand why the blanket restriction has remained in place for more than three months as the risk posed by arrivals from Britain diminished. There were good reasons for the ban when it was first imposed. At that time, a new variant of Covid-19 had just emerged in the UK. It was easy to catch and spreading fast. New cases in the country surged to more than 60,000 a day. Many governments quickly imposed bans on flights from Britain. France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Canada, and India were among them. But the position quickly changed. The British variant has now spread to more than 50 countries. Other forms of the virus, potentially more dangerous because existing vaccines may not provide immunity, have emerged elsewhere. Hongkongers stranded by coronavirus travel ban battle to get home from Britain in ‘Hunger Games-style’ fight for flights Meanwhile, new cases in the UK are down to around 3,000 a day and more than 37 million people there have been vaccinated. Other countries now have a bigger problem with Covid-19. France and the Netherlands lifted their bans on British arrivals in December and others followed. But the Hong Kong prohibition remains. The sudden halting of flights left at least 1,000 Hong Kong residents stuck in the UK just as cases there spiked and the country went into lockdown. Families were separated, employees unable to return to their jobs and businesspeople struggled to keep operations going. Teachers and students attended online classes late at night. Many decided to find a way back to Hong Kong. Around 370 were permitted to return because they first spent at least three weeks in another country. Dubai was a popular choice. Then, when arriving in Hong Kong, there was a need to pay for three weeks’ hotel quarantine. The residents have been calling for charter flights to bring them back ever since the ban was imposed. They pointed out this had been done for Hongkongers stuck in Wuhan and Japan last year. Flight bans also apply to South Africa, Brazil and Ireland. These countries are classified as extremely high risk because of the threat posed by new variants. But the British variant has spread around the world. There have been imported cases of it in Hong Kong. It is just as likely to arrive from a country where no flight ban exists. There are now other forms of the virus to worry about. The Philippines is facing a sharp rise in cases due to a mutation of the British variant. Mutations have also been found in India and Pakistan. But there is no ban on flights from these countries. Hong Kong is right to place importance on keeping new variants out of the city, especially while the vaccine take-up rate is slow. But the strict testing and quarantine rules for arrivals seem to have achieved that. There should be consistency in imposing and maintaining flight bans. The government should explain the reasons why they apply to some countries and not others. Meanwhile, the ban on flights from the UK should be lifted or more chartered flights arranged so that stranded residents can finally make it home.