Hong Kong Dashes Business Leaders’ Hopes for Looser Covid Rules

Hong Kong’s government has dashed business leaders’ hopes for a near-term easing of the city’s Covid quarantine measures, signaling in a private meeting that any relaxation would require a dramatically higher vaccination rate and prolonged drop in local cases.

Policy makers led by Chief Secretary of Administration Matthew Cheung reiterated a target of vaccinating 50% of the population before any major loosening, according to a person who attended the virtual meeting with representatives of the business community on Friday. As of Monday, about 5% of the financial hub’s residents had received their first vaccine shots.

Policy makers also downplayed prospects for travel bubbles or a reopening of the border with China any time soon, two people said. The government didn’t offer a clear road-map for reopening despite requests to do so from multiple business groups, the people said.

Hong Kong Dashes Business Leaders’ Hopes for Looser Covid Rules

The comments suggest Hong Kong’s leaders will continue to pursue a cautious approach, even as Chief Executive Carrie Lam said on Tuesday she’ll “personally look into” whether it would be possible to reduce the mandatory 21-day quarantine for vaccinated residents returning to the territory.

Hong Kong’s strict rules have arguably proved successful in containing its total recorded Covid cases at around 11,400, far fewer than in other major financial hubs. But some in the banking and business communities have expressed frustration with the rules, especially after an outbreak this month forced several companies to shut offices and left some employees and their children stuck in government quarantine facilities.

The risk for Hong Kong is that it alienates international business leaders who have already begun scrutinizing the city’s appeal in the wake of a yearlong clampdown on political freedoms by China. Hong Kong’s approach is likely to become an increasingly pressing issue as some parts of the world -- including New York, London and Singapore -- begin easing restrictions or outlining clear guidelines for reopening.

Cheung’s press secretary declined to comment.

Hong Kong’s curbs on travel are a particular concern for expatriate executives. Many are keen to resume business trips or visit their families in places like the U.K. and the U.S., without having to spend three weeks in hotel quarantine when they return home.

The city’s quarantine policy for local cases has also caused anxiety. Close contacts of those who test positive in Hong Kong, including young children, must spend as many as two weeks in centralized surveillance facilities. While one of the quarantine centers is in a Dorsett-brand hotel, other purpose-built facilities feature tiny rooms with bare-bones furniture. Some lack wifi connections that can support remote work.

In Singapore, close contacts go to centralized facilities only if their homes are deemed unsuitable for isolation. In Japan, the government advises close contacts who test negative to stay at home for 14 days.

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