Hong Kong to Curb Quarantine Loopholes to Meet China Demands

by BLOOMBERG

HONG KONG will soon end most of the quarantine exemptions for overseas and mainland travelers, with the city under pressure from officials in Beijing to tighten up what is already one of the world’s strictest Covid-19 containment regimes.

The city will soon announce arrangements to remove exemptions that allow some people to skip mandatory hotel quarantine stays of as long as 21 days to improve the chance that China will allow easier cross-border travel, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam said Tuesday at a regular briefing.  

“In relation to exempted groups of quarantine-free personnel, most of these will be removed – we will only leave those relating to emergency services or services relating to the everyday supply and logistics of Hong Kong, say for example cross-boundary truck drivers,” Lam said. “This is to give confidence to the central authorities that it is safe to open the border.”

Hong Kong currently allows some people from a dozen industries to be exempted from the compulsory quarantine measures. That includes executives from the insurance and financial industries, directors of public companies, scientific experts on Covid-19 and crew members on airplanes, passenger ships and cargo vessels.

In August, however, the government prompted a public outcry when officials allowed Hollywood actor Nicole Kidman to skip the quarantine system and shoot a television series. At that time, the city was issuing about 40,000 exemptions monthly to arrivals at bridges, the airport and other ports of entry, according to a government statement.

Lam also said she wasn’t worried that the quarantine measures were harming the city’s reputation as a global financial hub, even as businesses express frustration at measures that have separated people from their families overseas, prevented executives from overseeing factories in the mainland and made it nearly impossible for residents to travel for leisure.

“A simple answer is, I’m not concerned,” Lam said. “I am full of confidence about Hong Kong’s future.”

Foreign business chambers and business groups have expressed concern that Hong Kong has no exit plan as it pursues a “Covid Zero” strategy of trying to stamp out all cases. And while the international travel to the city has been curtailed significantly, Hong Kong has also not been able to kickstart travel with the mainland, struggling to convince officials in Beijing that its measures are strict enough.

China is in the middle of its fourth outbreak driven by the delta variant in the past five months, with the successive flareups coming at an ever-faster clip despite the nation’s 80% vaccination rate. Hong Kong, meanwhile, hasn’t had a local outbreak of coronavirus since early June. It does post a handful of cases each day, generally imported infections from travelers.

“If Hong Kong were to loosen the border controls people arriving from overseas, or adopt what other countries have done – so called ‘live with the Covid-19 virus’ – then the chances of resuming travel with the mainland will be reduced,” Lam said. “So I can only say to those representing the financial sector that we have to look at it in context. And the context is Hong Kong’s primary advantage lies in being the gateway to the mainland of China.”