Hong Kong Ends Quarantine Exemptions for Bankers, Executives
(Bloomberg) -- Hong Kong will end quarantine exemptions for senior executives, bankers and most other groups starting Nov. 12, tightening what is already one of the world’s strictest Covid-19 policies as it works to open the border with mainland China.
Exemptions for directors of listed companies and senior executives from the banking, insurance, securities and futures sectors will be canceled, Hong Kong’s government said Monday. Consular and diplomatic officers will need to self-isolate at designated quarantine hotels, it said, with home quarantine not allowed except for consuls general or representatives at an equivalent or higher level.
Only members of some essential groups linked to the city’s daily operations will now get exemptions, among them airline crew, sea crew working on cargo vessels, government officials and drivers of cross-border buses.
Hong Kong currently allows some people from a dozen industries to be exempted from compulsory Covid quarantines that can last as long as three weeks. Foreign business chambers and business groups have expressed concern that the city will be left behind as other global financial hubs reopen. Hong Kong and China are the last holdouts on the Covid Zero strategy, which seeks to stamp out all cases of the virus through strict border curbs, contact tracing and mass testing.
Hong Kong hasn’t had a local outbreak of the coronavirus since early June, and while it does typically report a handful of cases each day, most are infections detected in new arrivals from overseas. The city has fully inoculated 59% of residents, trailing neighboring finance hub Singapore, according to Bloomberg’s vaccine tracker.
Regulators and the Hong Kong Monetary Authority on Monday asked the the city’s finance sector to encourage employees to get vaccinated as soon as possible, according to a separate statement. Staff should receive at least one dose by the end of November, or opt to be tested for Covid every two weeks, it said.
Resuming Border Travel
Chief Executive Carrie Lam hinted at the moves in a briefing last week, saying Hong Kong would soon remove exemptions allowing some people to skip hotel quarantine to bolster the odds of China opening up to cross-border travel. Reopening the border to the mainland is a top priority of Hong Kong’s government, with mainland tourists a key source of revenue pre-pandemic.
“The new measures will strengthen the prevention of importation of cases and tackle the threat posed by mutant strains,” a government spokesperson said in Monday’s statement. The move is meant “to foster favorable conditions for resuming cross-boundary travel with the mainland and cross-border travel in future.”
Hong Kong has already launched separate quarantine-free schemes called Come2hk and Return2hk for returning residents and visitors traveling from the mainland. But the city hasn’t received a reciprocal agreement from China, as it struggles to convince Beijing that its anti-Covid measures are strict enough.
The move to end most exemptions follows public outcry dating back to August, when officials allowed actress Nicole Kidman to skip quarantine in order to shoot a television series. At that time, the city was issuing about 40,000 exemptions a month to arrivals at its airport, bridges and other ports of entry, according to the government.
China has been battling variant-driven outbreaks as Covid waves hit the country despite its adherence to Covid Zero. In Beijing, it’s prompted the government to level travel curbs.
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