Hong Kong Reaffirms Covid Zero Strategy, Extending Flight Bans
(Bloomberg) -- Hong Kong’s leader vowed to press on with her city’s Covid Zero strategy as she extended sweeping social-distancing measures and flight bans until after the Lunar New Year break, in a desperate bid to eliminate omicron.
“We have to weigh these consequences against the health risks to the people of Hong Kong because these viruses could kill people,” Chief Executive Carrie Lam said at a press briefing Friday. “Hundreds of people are still dying in every European country nowadays and I have to do my utmost duty to protect the health of the Hong Kong people.”
Lam extended the ban on evening dining-in services, as well as the closure of leisure venues such as bars, beaches, beauty parlors, for another two weeks until Feb. 3. The Asian financial hub will also maintain a block on passenger flights from Australia, Canada, France, India, Pakistan, the Philippines, the U.K. and the U.S. that has locked many residents out of the city until Feb. 4. A fifth round of financial relief totaling HK$3.57 billion ($459 million) will be released for the hardest-hit industries, she said.
Hong Kong has relied on some of the world’s harshest border controls to control the virus, including hotel quarantines as long as 21 days for fully vaccinated returning residents. That approach has prompted anger from some citizens who have been isolated, sometimes in dire conditions, for fleeting contact with a positive case, as most nations pivot to some form of living with the virus. Hong Kong has one of the developed world’s lowest vaccination rates.
Lam said she hoped to ease the current restrictions after the Lunar New Year holiday, which runs for the first three days of February. Hong Kong has recorded some 60 local cases of the infectious omicron variant in recent weeks, threatening to upend the city’s efforts to eliminate the virus.
She also said there was “hope” the government’s long-stated goal of restarting quarantine-free travel with mainland China could be realized once the current outbreak was under control, but failed to lay out a concrete timeline.
The city’s economy is coming under pressure once again, having just rebounded after two previous years of contraction. Morgan Stanley and Bloomberg Economics have already cut their growth forecasts for this year as Hong Kong’s strict adherence to a Covid Zero approach means a delayed opening of its borders with China and elsewhere.
Financial Secretary Paul Chan, who is set to give his annual budget speech next month, said in a blog post last week that the economy will take a hit from the outbreak of omicron-variant virus cases in the city.
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