As the region opens up, Hong Kong stubbornly adheres to a strict quarantine system

Hong Kong has been calling itself “Asia’s World City” for two decades, but it may soon become one of the most isolated cities in the region, because even if its regional competitors relax travel restrictions, it looks sure to continue next year Maintain an effective closed state.

The Chinese territorial authorities have not yet formulated a plan to relax strict quarantine regulations, which have effectively stopped international travel. Although other countries in the region, including Singapore, Australia, New Zealand and Thailand, have begun to abandon it, they are still committed to the “Zero Covid” policy.

Singapore opened last week Quarantine-free travel Nearly 21 months after the border was closed, arrangements were reached with 10 countries. At the same time, according to one of the strictest quarantine systems in the world implemented since 2020, all travelers arriving in Hong Kong must still be quarantined in hotels for two to three weeks at their own expense.

According to a Chinese government official, the policy is expected to last until 2022—and possibly after the Communist Party Congress in November—and the authorities have not yet proposed any timetable for relaxing the regulations.

Hong Kong’s refusal to change its strategy renewed the international business community’s questioning of Hong Kong’s status as a global financial center and the effectiveness of its isolation policy.

“The atmosphere is getting gloomy,” said Tara Joseph, president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong. “People are losing the opportunity to meet with their families, which is becoming very difficult on a personal level, and they are losing customers, which is becoming difficult for business.”

Ben Cowling, an epidemiologist at the University of Hong Kong 21 days quarantine, Said that maintaining this measure for three weeks “doesn’t make sense to me, but if we continue on the path of zero coronavirus, we will have to face a year or more.”

“The mainland is more important”

The Hong Kong government has made it clear that its first task is to reopen the border with mainland China and then relax travel restrictions on immigrants from other parts of the world.

“Of course, international travel and international business are important to us, but… the mainland is more important,” Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam said this month. This is the first time the government has been so clear.

Due to Beijing’s own strict zero-Covid strategy, this focus is expected to postpone any initiatives to make international travel easier, and the border is unlikely to open anytime soon. Beijing and Guangzhou are southern provinces bordering Hong Kong, and the authorities have ordered the region to improve its control of the coronavirus before making any decisions.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam said that the city’s focus is to reopen the border with mainland China © Bloomberg

Large-scale outbreaks in China or Hong Kong are also politically sensitive, as Beijing is preparing to host the Winter Olympics in February, while Chinese President Xi Jinping seeks to secure a third term later next year. Hong Kong will also hold leadership elections in March, marking the 25th anniversary of the city’s transfer from Britain to Chinese rule in July.

“We are actually deciding that Hong Kong will become a Chinese city,” said the Asia Pacific chief executive of a $60 billion asset management company.

The business community is eagerly awaiting the reopening of the border, but has called on the government to provide a timetable.

“Any border opening is a good start,” said Frederik Gollob, chairman of the European Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong, who warned Carrie Lam that strict quarantine regulations threaten Hong Kong’s status as a global financial center.

The company “has been very resilient, but of course [the travel restrictions] It has contributed to the decision to oppose Hong Kong as a place for business,” Gollob added.

“This will be a huge improvement,” said an executive at an investment bank on Wall Street. “This is where our customers are. Not being able to travel to the mainland is unsustainable.”

Companies and residents look elsewhere

According to business lobby groups, these restrictions have prompted some multinational companies to relocate certain employees and businesses.

In May of this year, the American Chamber of Commerce stated that 42% of its members plan to leave the city due to the uncertainty of the pandemic and the comprehensive national security laws that Beijing imposed on the city after the democratic protests in 2019.

Hong Kong’s Population decline There was a 1.2% drop last year, which is the largest drop since the government began to record in the 1960s. The city’s education department reported that this year’s primary school enrollment rate had dropped by 6%, and the secondary school enrollment rate had dropped by nearly 4%, which included moving out of the city as a factor.

“Before Covid and before the protest, I would say we were a Hong Kong family,” said a British financial executive who moved to Singapore this summer. “But the anchor is no longer there.”

“The potential of travel means we see [Singapore] It’s better than Hong Kong at the moment,” he added, although in this city-state, social restrictions related to the new crown virus are more onerous, and there can be no more than two people meeting in public places. In contrast, in Hong Kong, most daily activities are normal. conduct.

Health experts question 21-day quarantine

Hong Kong did not implement a lockdown during the pandemic. As of October 21, 12,312 cases and only 213 deaths were reported among a population of 7 million. Approximately 65% ​​of the city’s total population has been fully vaccinated, although it only includes 16% of people over 80 years of age.

Sophia Chen, the director of the Hong Kong Food and Health Bureau, defended Hong Kong’s strict practices.

“When adjusting control measures, we will pay close attention to public sentiment,” she said. “When adopting a zero Covid strategy…[the]The government puts people’s health first, and adjusts border control and social distancing measures based on the epidemic. “

But now people question the effectiveness of the 21-day quarantine policy. Available in 25 countries And unvaccinated immigrants, including children.

The World Health Organization recommends a 14-day incubation period for the virus, and some medical experts say that the third week of isolation is unnecessary.

“There is no scientific evidence to support the 21-day quarantine. It is neither evidence-based nor proportionate, and it almost certainly does more harm than good,” David Owens, a physician in OT&P medical practice in Hong Kong, wrote in a newsletter to clients this month.

“Most parts of Asia will reopen soon, and only China, Hong Kong and Macau will be subject to travel restrictions in 2022,” Colin said.

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