It was once an international business center, the bustling and dynamic commercial gateway to China and the rest of Asia.
But after weeks of lobbying by Hong Kong’s global business community for the government to ease border restrictions and strict mandatory quarantine to align it with other malls, authorities have responded instead. by even stricter measures.
During her regular press conference on Tuesday, Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam announced that most of the city’s exemptions from the city’s mandatory and self-funded quarantine periods of up to 21 days will soon be lifted. The government followed up on Wednesday by announcing that Covid patients are expected to spend an additional two weeks in hospital after their recovery.
Hong Kong has only reported one local case since mid-August and, keen to see China reopen its borders with the city, Lam has made it clear that she has prioritized Beijing’s demand for zero Covid rather than restarting international travel and “living with the virus”.
The changes are pushing Hong Kong further into a life dictated by China’s strategy as the rest of the world opens up, which business and expat groups say is pushing people out of the city. This comes on top of already record levels of population loss as Hong Kong people fled national security crackdown.
Hong Kong has reported a relatively low number of 213 deaths and 12,300 cases in the pandemic, largely due to its early border closures. He has since developed a labyrinthine set of entry requirements based on a traveler’s point of origin, vaccination status, visa status, and quarantined hotel reservations.
The city primarily bans non-residents and requires entrants to undergo up to 21 days of quarantine. Until Lam’s announcement on Tuesday, there were exemptions or shorter quarantine periods for some residents, workers, diplomats and business figures – including controversially Nicole Kidman for filming.
The rules have changed several times, sometimes suddenly banning entries from entire countries, leaving Hong Kong people stranded abroad. The mandatory self-funded quarantine has been criticized by leading medical professionals as being unnecessarily long and potentially dangerous. Coupled with sweeping changes to Hong Kong’s political freedoms and daily life, those who had moved to the global Asian city for work are starting to reassess themselves.
“It’s the fact that it changes all the time,” said James Arnold, an Australian financial worker, shortly before leaving Hong Kong after living in the city for five years with his family.
“People I talk to say they won’t travel anymore until they know. So the pressure mounts, and now the conversation is: I haven’t seen my mom for two years.
“With Hong Kong in particular being so opaque, it’s very difficult, and that opacity isn’t determined by them, it’s determined by Beijing. “
An American expat living in Hong Kong said he was considering moving to Hong Kong after a decade.
“Other economies are opening up, including more recently Thailand. However if I go I have to do three weeks in a quarantine hotel. The other reason is that the parents are getting older and they cannot come and visit me due to the restrictions. “
The number of non-continental foreign companies is declining, with US companies declining for the third year in a row. Representatives from companies, including the US Chamber of Commerce, have expressed frustration at not being able to attract staff or make long-term decisions, and many are now pushing to restructure or relocate. in Singapore or in mainland Chinese cities like Shanghai.
Last weekend, the Asia Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association warned the government that its approach jeopardized Hong Kong’s status as a global financial center.
Faced with the uncertainty of border closures and the worsening security and political environment, foreign chambers of commerce have warned that many existing businesses are leaving, downsizing or moving staff to other Asian cities. .
A survey earlier this year by the United States Chamber of Commerce found that more than 40% of its members were considering leaving Hong Kong, but its president, Tara Joseph, said the government was not responding to their concerns. . “We’re at the point where we feel like we’re talking to a wall,” Joseph told Bloomberg. “So we stopped writing letters at this point. “
“People don’t have to be in Hong Kong to access China”
Talks are underway between their Hong Kong and Beijing counterparts on opening travel between the two regions, with China insisting that Hong Kong’s approach must be closely aligned with its own.
China has responded to outbreaks with a strategy of removing lockdowns, mass testing and travel restrictions, and has made it clear that it expects Hong Kong to maintain a similar level of control over the pandemic.
And so Hong Kong appears ready to sacrifice its status as an international hub, to impose a long quarantine on returning residents and an additional quarantine on released patients – a move described by one health expert as a waste but by another as likely to help negotiations with China.
Lam said international companies are in Hong Kong due to access to China and therefore would not want global travel to resume without their crucial access to the mainland.
But Arnold, citing Beijing’s growing control over the city, said Lam was missing a key point: access to China.
“If they are comfortable working in China, they will go [to be based in China]. «
Expats and departing international companies are joining the separate and massive exodus of Hong Kong people fleeing Beijing’s crackdown on democracy. A telephone survey conducted this month by the Chinese University of Hong Kong found that 42% of those polled said they would emigrate if given the chance.
The specific impact of the pandemic measures on those surveyed was not clear, but Dr Victor Zheng Wan-tai, associate director of the Institute for Asia-Pacific Studies at CUHK, who conducted the survey, said that the exodus was politically motivated but by push / pull factors related to the pandemic for people who likely offset each other.
“Although you may consider that the greater severity of Covid-19 in Western countries could hamper departure intentions, reception and [increasingly] easing measures in the UK, Canada and Australia also encourage them to do so, ”he told The Guardian.