There is no question that Hong Kong will reconnect with mainland China and the rest of the world. Whether it is the right time to do so is debatable though, especially when the Omicron-fuelled outbreaks on both sides of the border have yet to be put under control. While the city’s declining number of infections has enabled a gradual relaxation of some health restrictions starting from next Thursday, a full exit strategy for travel and living to return to normal is still unavailable. This is hardly good for the city’s status as a gateway to China and an international aviation hub. ‘No doubt’ Hong Kong is a top aviation hub: Carrie Lam The concerns have been flagged by the head of the international aviation body, who said the city’s travel curbs had made it “extremely difficult, if not impossible” for airlines to operate. “Hong Kong as an international hub airport has slipped. It is effectively off the map now and I think it is going to be difficult for Hong Kong to recover,” said Willie Walsh, director general of the International Air Transport Association (IATA). Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said the city was undoubtedly still an aviation hub. The quarantine restrictions for travellers would also remain, she added. Given the city’s ongoing outbreak and stringent travel restrictions, it would be unusual if we are on travellers’ maps. But there is every reason to get prepared for travelling to return. The concerns of the aviation industry underlined the negative perception about the government’s approach in fighting the virus. Of particular concern is the flight suspension policy. At least six airlines saw route bans in the past week after carrying travellers who tested positive for the virus upon arrival. While the so-called circuit-breaker mechanism can help curb imported cases as the government allows Hongkongers to return from eight countries since April 1, airline operation also faces more uncertainties as a result. That is why the frequencies of some international flights have yet to return to normal. Stop the dynamic zero-Covid travel restrictions – I want to get off As more countries embrace “living with Covid” and open up, it is only a matter of time for Hong Kong to further relax cross-border and overseas travel restrictions. While the government has come under fire for its stringent policies over the past two years, the community managed to avoid severe outbreaks as in some overseas countries until recent months when the fifth wave has taken a heavy toll. There needs to be due recognition in the efforts in fighting the virus. Putting the epidemic under control remains the prerequisite to reconnect with mainland China and the world. The city was so close to achieving such goals late last year. Hopefully, the experience of resuming more international flights can be a reference for how we can swing the door wider without affecting the priority in reopening the border with the mainland as soon as possible.