A Family’s Yearlong Quest to Return to Hong Kong During the Pandemic

The Bordias have been trying to return to Hong Kong, their home of 13 years, from India, where they traveled early in the pandemic. But their journey has become a game of transoceanic Whac-A-Mole.

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A family has been trying to get back to Hong Kong for a year. Is this the moment?

Hong Kong in June. The city has some of the world’s strictest travel rules, with shifting blocks not just on certain countries but also on certain airlines.Credit…Lam Yik Fei for The New York Times

Sept. 9, 2021, 7:49 a.m. ET

Two weeks ago, Ankur and Priyanka Bordia unpacked their family’s eight suitcases for the fourth time in 40 days.

“Are we in Hong Kong yet?” asked their children, ages 1 and 3.

“No, we’re in Qatar,” Mr. Bordia replied.

For almost a year, the Bordias have been trying to return to Hong Kong, their home of 13 years, from India, where they traveled early in the pandemic. As the Chinese territory has continually changed which countries visitors can arrive from, the family’s journey has become a game of transoceanic Whac-A-Mole, a vivid example of how ever-shifting international travel rules have upended lives worldwide.

When The New York Times spoke with the family last month, they were stranded in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, which Hong Kong had moved into a “high-risk” category days before their flight home, citing a rise in coronavirus cases there.

So they headed to Doha, Qatar, deemed “medium-risk” by Hong Kong officials and open to the city’s borders.

“It’s like there is a dagger all the time on my neck,” said Mr. Bordia, who owns a jewelry business in Hong Kong with his wife.

The family has hopped from country to country, traveling across the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf, with a toddler still young enough to eat mashed rice and vegetables, another child missing her first year of school and two nannies.

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The Bordias.Credit…The Bordia family

If all goes according to plan, the Bordia family will return to Hong Kong on Sept. 18 on a Qatar Airways flight. But given how Hong Kong has repeatedly revised pandemic policies with little notice, he said, the situation could change any day.

A change late on Monday particularly stung the Bordias: The city said it would allow travelers from India to return starting Wednesday. Had the shift come a few weeks earlier, it would have saved the family trips to three countries (the Bordias also spent time in the Maldives).

The city’s travel restrictions are some of the world’s most severe. It has blocked travelers not only from certain countries, but also from certain airlines. In the past two weeks, it’s banned some flights operated by Philippine Airlines, Cebu Pacific Air, Turkish Airlines and Emirates.

Days after the Bordias arrived in Doha, Hong Kong announced that it had banned Qatar Airways from entering the city, after one of its passengers tested positive upon arrival. The ban is scheduled to expire a week before the Bordias’ flight.

Mr. Bordia said he wouldn’t count on making it to Hong Kong until the plane took off.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do if something happens,” he said.

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