Xi Jinping’s Hong Kong trip in doubt after top official contracts coronavirus

(Bloomberg) – A rumoured visit to Hong Kong by President Xi Jinping to mark the 25th anniversary of Chinese rule has been questioned after a top official in Hong Kong contracted the coronavirus.

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Two members of incoming Chief Executive John Lee’s cabinet have tested positive for the virus, the government revealed in a statement on Thursday. Li and his government are scheduled to be sworn in on July 1, in a ceremony that China’s leader is widely expected to attend.

Tsang Chi-wai, the head of the Mainland Affairs Bureau, and the incoming Chief Secretary for Administration, Mr. Chan Chi-ming, who will continue to serve in the next government, are now in isolation. Chen has been in quarantine since June 21 after his wife tested positive for the virus, the statement said. Chan and Tsang were last at work on Monday and Wednesday respectively. Liu Ruiqi, the permanent secretary of the Development Bureau, was also infected.

It is unclear when Li came into direct contact with the infected officials, or when he was last tested for the coronavirus. His office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the two points. If Lee and outgoing chief executive Carrie Lam test positive, it could derail the entire July 1 handover celebration.

Xi’s absence next week will be the first time a Chinese leader has skipped the July 1 swearing-in ceremony of the chief executive since Britain returned its financial center to China in 1997.

The South China Morning Post, citing an unnamed person, said Beijing was “deeply concerned” about the infection and worried that the closed-loop system they entered to prevent any risk of infection to China’s top leader at next Friday’s event would not work . The source added that it was unclear how the development would affect the visit of the national leader. Beijing has yet to confirm who will travel to Hong Kong for the event.

The visit is expected to be Xi’s first outside mainland China since January 2020, after his Covid Zero policy closed China’s borders and restricted him to virtual attendance at international events. China’s leader’s visit to Hong Kong, despite the city recording more than 1,000 daily cases of the coronavirus, will show his determination to brand Beijing’s control of the former British colony after years of turmoil.

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