Hong Kong officials escape quarantine that batters city’s reputation

Senior Hong Kong officials sent on trips to promote the city’s merits to financial capitals were exempted on their return from undergoing mandatory hotel quarantine, which businesses blame for the exodus of talent from the territory.

Hong Kong has aligned itself with Beijing’s contentious zero-Covid strategy, which entails strict border controls and seven to 14-day quarantine in a designated hotel for all incoming travellers.

But Eddie Yue, head of the Hong Kong Monetary Authority, and commerce secretary Edward Yau were granted exemptions under separate rules for government officials on business trips.

Yue travelled to Basel and London this month to participate in Bank for International Settlements sessions and meet banks and financial institutions. In London, he held a seminar for leaders of the UK’s financial services sector in which he described Hong Kong as a “gateway” between mainland China and the world.

Travellers entering China from the city, however, face multiple weeks of hotel quarantine once they arrive on the mainland — after having already undergone quarantine for a week or two in Hong Kong.

Unlike other returning residents, Yue was able to quarantine at home. “In line with the government’s arrangement for public officers travelling overseas for carrying out official duties, Mr Yue was subject to seven-day home quarantine and 14-day medical surveillance upon returning to Hong Kong from his recent business trip,” the HKMA said.

“[Yue was going] to meet investors to let them know about the current situation in Hong Kong and to give them confidence to continue to invest in the Hong Kong market,” a person with knowledge of his trip said.

Yau travelled to Bangkok this month to attend an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting and host events promoting investment in Hong Kong.

Before the trip, Yau said that the meetings were about “how to achieve a more open, connected and also balanced economic region”. The minister confirmed through a spokesperson that he was exempted from hotel quarantine.

Quarantine, the suspension of flights into Hong Kong this year and the threat of a hard lockdown have accelerated the departure of tens of thousands of residents from the Chinese territory.

The restrictions, along with a national security law implemented in 2020, have made the city less attractive to multinationals and banks. The city’s gross domestic product contracted 4 per cent in the first quarter of the year compared with the same period in 2021.

“It’s not so much a question of renovating [Hong Kong’s] image as rebuilding it; renovation won’t cut it and it’s not going to work without the removal of the quarantine requirement that they don’t feel obliged to experience,” said David Webb, a longtime activist investor in Hong Kong.

“Anyone who makes policy should experience it for themselves. How can they know what it is like? . . . the longer this goes on the harder it is to rebuild [Hong Kong’s] image.”

Last year, actress Nicole Kidman and Jamie Dimon, chief executive of JPMorgan Chase, were also exempted from quarantine, causing widespread anger in the city.

Hong Kong authorities argued that they have maintained quarantine requirements to convince the mainland government to reopen their shared border, which they said was the city’s priority.

But negotiations have been unsuccessful despite Hong Kong recording long periods of zero cases in 2021.

While foreign businesses have long warned that the quarantine requirement was undermining the city’s status as the region’s premier financial centre, in recent months the more conservative local business establishment has also complained about the damage of border controls to the economy.

Betty Yuen, the new chair of the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce, said this month: “We hope that in terms of [international borders], the restrictions could be relaxed as soon as possible, and the [government] should have a clear road map on that.”

Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s outgoing leader, said on Tuesday that inbound travel restrictions would continue for some time.

Additional reporting by Chan Ho-him in Hong Kong


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