Hong Kong’s status undermined by Covid restrictions, chief says

Published on:

Hong Kong (AFP) – Hong Kong’s status as an international hub has been “undermined” by strict coronavirus border controls, outgoing leader Carrie Lam admitted on Friday, just a day after saying she would not lift restrictions further until his departure.

The once vibrant Asian business hub is mired in its third year of pandemic isolation as it follows China’s zero Covid strategy, which seeks to control outbreaks with lockdowns, social distancing and border controls.

Hong Kong reopened last month to vaccinated non-residents, but international arrivals must still undergo seven days of quarantine.

“The border control measures have really made people very impatient and of course undermined Hong Kong’s status as a hub,” Lam said in an interview with CNBC.

“If you can’t travel freely to other places and to the mainland, how could you be a hub?”

Lam is due to step down on June 30 after a five-year term that saw huge pro-democracy protests and Covid-19 outbreaks that claimed more than 9,000 lives.

On Thursday, Lam announced that pandemic restrictions would no longer be eased during his remaining term.

But in Friday’s interview, Lam agreed that a more flexible quarantine policy would bring people back to Hong Kong.

“Once we can reduce the hotel quarantine period or, as some have suggested, replace it with home quarantine measures, I’m sure we’ll see a lot of people coming to Hong Kong,” he said. she told CNBC.

Addressing lawmakers on Thursday, Lam said Hong Kong was caught between China’s zero-Covid approach and foreign countries’ decision to live with the virus.

Beijing remains committed to completely quashing all epidemics, and President Xi Jinping reaffirmed the policy on Thursday, saying it must be “fully supported”, according to the official Xinhua news agency.

Lam said on Thursday there was no chance of reopening the border with mainland China in the near future.

Hong Kong’s next leader, John Lee, said one of his top priorities was to reconnect the city to the mainland, although he gave no specific timetable.

Lee has previously acknowledged that travel restrictions have caused “inconvenience” to international travelers, but has not pledged to reduce the quarantine period.