HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong will resume international flights from nine countries, including the United States and Britain, in April, city leader Carrie Lam said on Monday.

After the highly transmissible variant of omicron emerged in January, authorities quickly implemented flight bans in eight countries deemed to be high risk – including the United States, Britain, France and the United States. India – and in February added a ninth, Nepal.

But infections soared rapidly within the financial hub despite tighter social distancing measures, and within three months Hong Kong had recorded more than a million cases and 5,600 deaths.

“The circuit breaker (…) is inappropriate now,” she told a news conference.

“The epidemic situation in these countries is no worse than in Hong Kong, and most of the arrivals did not show serious symptoms. Extending the circuit breaker will add to the worries and anxieties of Hong Kong residents stranded there.

Lam’s administration has been criticized for its handling of the COVID-19 crisis, for spreading unclear messages about proposed mass testing and lockdown measures.

Fear of being caught in a sudden lockdown has fueled panic – forcing residents to bare supermarket shelves – and led to a record exodus of foreign and local residents.

In mid-March, Hong Kong recorded a net exodus of more than 134,000 people leaving the city.