Hong Kong to close most Covid-19 quarantine loopholes to meet China's demands

HONG KONG (BLOOMBERG) – Hong Kong will soon end most of the quarantine exemptions for overseas and mainland travellers, with the city under pressure from officials in Beijing to tighten up what is already one of the world’s strictest Covid-19 containment regimes.

The city will soon announce arrangements to remove exemptions that allow some people to skip mandatory hotel quarantine stays of as long as 21 days to improve the chance that China will allow easier cross-border travel, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam said at a regular briefing on Tuesday (Oct 26).

“In relation to exempted groups of quarantine-free personnel, most of these will be removed – we will only leave those relating to emergency services or services relating to the everyday supply and logistics of Hong Kong, say for example cross-boundary truck drivers,” Mrs Lam said. “This is to give confidence to the central authorities that it is safe to open the border.”

Mrs Lam also said she was not worried that the city’s quarantine measures are harming the city’s reputation as a global financial hub, even as businesses express rising concern about the frustrating measures that have separated families and forced even fully-vaccinated residents to spend upwards of three weeks confined to small hotel rooms.

Sticking to strategy

Meanwhile, the government said it would stick to its “zero infection” strategy on Covid-19, rebuffing a plea from global banks for the city to ease its strict quarantine policy and set a clearer timeline for a return to normal or risk its status as a centre for international business.

In a statement issued to Bloomberg News in response to calls from the city’s top bank lobbying group for a change of course, a government spokesperson reiterated that the top priority remains reopening travel to the Chinese mainland, saying that other places that have adjusted their strategies to co-exist with the virus have seen increases in infections, hospitalizations and deaths.

“The Government will continue to strive to reach ‘zero infection’ and sustain the various stringent and necessary anti-epidemic measures,” the spokesperson said in a statement issued by the Financial Services and the Treasury Bureau.

The Asia Securities Industry & Financial Markets Association over the weekend issued its most public warning yet over the city’s strategy. The group said in a letter to Financial Secretary Paul Chan that the hard-line approach has put Hong Kong’s status as a financial centre, its broader economic recovery and competitiveness at risk.

A survey by the group found that almost half of global banks and asset managers are now considering moving staff and functions out of the financial hub.

Other financial hubs, such as Singapore, London and New York, are starting to get back to normal, easing travel rules while seeking to co-exist with the virus.

Hong Kong has some of the world’s strictest quarantine policies, placing incoming travelers in quarantine for as long as three weeks, a strategy that has been largely successful in keeping local infections at close to zero.

The government said its strategy is working. The city has basically reached “zero infection” and the economy is showing “encouraging” signs of a recovery, it said. Hong Kong also continues to top the “normalcy index” compiled by international media, according to the statement.

“The Government is aware of the views from the financial industry on the government’s anti-epidemic measures,” the spokesperson said. “The Financial Services and the Treasury Bureau will maintain liaison with them as always to understand their difficulties and concerns.”

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