The Hong Kong government on Friday said 14 visitors, who travelled to the semi-autonomous region via an Air India flight on August 14, have tested positive for the coronavirus till Thursday, PTI reported. The government added that Air India flights have been barred for two weeks till August 31 from entering the region.

The Hong Kong health department used the “Prevention and Control of Disease (Regulation of Cross-boundary Conveyances and Travellers) Regulation (Cap. 599H) on August 17 to prohibit [the] landing of passenger flights operated by Air India for two weeks from August 18 to 31,” a spokesperson told PTI. A health officer can invoke the law to prevent an aircraft from landing in Hong Kong when passengers in the flight have been infected with or are likely to have been exposed to the coronavirus.

This was the first time the government invoked an emergency public health regulation to punish the Indian carrier, according to The South China Morning Post. The government cited citing poor pre-flight testing for Covid-19 for the ban.

As per the Hong Kong government’s rule issued in July, passengers from certain countries, including India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal, the United States and others, can only arrive if he or she has a Covid-19 negative certificate from a test done 72 hours before travelling. After arriving, all passengers have to take a coronavirus test.

The government, however, did not mention if the persons who tested positive had the Covid-19 negative certificates as specified in the order.

In a statement, an Air India spokesperson said that the national carrier will not operate three of its flights to Hong Kong till the end of August. “One of these flights is scheduled to operate as a cargo-only flight without any passenger from India and will return from Hong Kong with passengers,” the airline’s spokesperson said. “Air India has been adhering to all the protocols and norms laid down for flying to different destinations.”

India suspended all international flights in March, before it imposed a nationwide lockdown to limit the spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus. However, the country has been repatriating its citizens living abroad, through a scheme called Vande Bharat Mission.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong reported 4,631 coronavirus cases and the toll stood at 75, according to the John Hopkins University data. In India, the coronavirus tally crossed the 29-lakh mark on Friday morning. With 68,898 new cases in 24 hours, the count rose to 29,05,823, while the toll increased by 983 to 54,849. There are now 6,92,028 active cases in India, while as many as 21,58,946 people have recovered.

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