HONG KONG: Hong Kong leader John Lee unveiled on Thursday a promotion campaign that will include 500,000 free flights to lure back visitors, businesses and investors to the financial hub after more than three years of tough COVID-19 curbs.

The "Hello Hong Kong" campaign was launched with dancers and flashing neon lights in the city's main convention centre, next to its famous harbour, with a backdrop bearing the slogan in various languages including Russian and Spanish.

Lee, speaking in English, said the campaign would show that the city was open for tourism and was aimed at boosting business and investment in the Chinese special administrative region.

"Hong Kong is now connected to mainland China and the whole international world, and there will be no isolation, no quarantine and no restrictions on experiencing ... enjoying the hustle and bustle of Asia's world city," Lee said.

The launch was attended by a range of officials including from the city's tourism, trade and aviation departments.

Hong Kong was largely sealed off behind closed borders for much of the past three years in a bid to ward off COVID, with mandatory quarantine of up to three weeks for people arriving as well as intensive testing and screening.

The former British closely followed China's zero-COVID policy until the middle of 2022 when it began to gradually unwind its rules.

Hong Kong dropped most of its remaining COVID rules in December but the wearing of masks remains mandatory unless exercising, as well as daily rapid antigen testing for students.

There remains a quota system for travellers between the mainland and Hong Kong and a requirement that they must do a COVID test. Three of Hong Kong's border checkpoints with China have remained closed.

China announced in December that it would scrap most of its COVID curbs and it reopened its borders to the world in January, despite a surge in infections.

Hong Kong business groups, diplomats and many residents deplored Hong Kong COVID rules, saying they threatened its competitiveness and standing as an international financial centre, especially after a period of political tension over pro-democracy protests. (Reporting by Farah Master, Jessie Pang, Twinnie Siu and Donny Kwok; Editing by Clarence Fernandez, Robert Birsel)