In Bid to Show It Is Open, Hong Kong Bends Covid Rules … for Some

Hong Kong is enthusiastic to show the world that the city is open for business after years of pandemic limitations. Officials this week even found that they are willing to bend some of the rules to visitors — as long as they can afford it.

Bankers in town attending the Global Financial Leaders’ Investment Summit have been told they can skip the mandatory quarantine and leave on a private jet if they get the results. positive for Covid. Tech executives attending Fintech Week from abroad are allowed to dine in private rooms, despite a rule banning visitors from eating out during the first three days of their arrival in the city. Spectators at the Hong Kong Sevens rugby league this weekend will be able to dine in the stands once the rules are relaxed.

These three standout events – attended by international guests for the first time in three years – aim to prove that Hong Kong still deserves its self-proclaimed title of “Asia’s World City”. But the privileges granted to a few add to the challenges the former British colony faces as it tries to balance growing demands from Beijing, which has the final say on the matter. Covid policies in Hong Kong, with an international community determined to overcome the pandemic.

“We were, are and we will remain one of the leading financial centers in the world. And you can take it to the bank,” John Lee, the Hong Kong leader, told executives, including those from Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and JPMorgan, on Wednesday. (Mr. Lee, who often wears a mask at press conferences, began his speech.)

Hong Kong has struggled to break free from Beijing’s relentless “zero-Covid” policy and restore a global reputation ravaged by the spread of the virus. suppress about pro-democracy protests. US lawmakers urge bankers to boycott investment summit, say attendance would be a form of “Bleaching” of China arbitrary grip in the semi-autonomous territory for a while.

For residents who have endured tough years of Covid rules, the loopholes and exceptions for visiting executives are painful. “If the rules are fair, it should be done at all levels of society, and if you think it’s hard to organize societies,” said Virginia Chan, owner of Humid with a Chance. this summit, then open the door to Hong Kong,” said Virginia Chan, owner of Humid with a Chance of Fishball Tour.

Like many other business owners in the city, Ms. Chan’s profits have been hit by strict Covid restrictions. Her company used to organize 60 group tours per month. Now, she is grateful to have three so far this month.

Few people dispute that the city needs a economic turmoil. Pro-democracy protests across the city scare tourists in 2019. After that, Covid-19 restrictions banned nonresidents from the city for two years. Mandatory hotel quarantine extended caused a wave of migration of professional workers, many of whom moved to rival cities, such as Singapore.

With the economy moving towards a DepressionThousands of small businesses have had to close, pushing many people out of work.

Officials took a big step toward reopening in September when they removed hotel quarantine requirements. But many say the new approach has made little difference because some limitations still exist. Visitors are prohibited from going to restaurants, bars and many other businesses for three days after arrival and are required to undergo health monitoring for a week.

“There are no tourists visiting,” said Eric Lee, owner of a souvenir shop selling vintage toy cars and snacks. Revenue at his nearly decade-long business, the Hong Kong Tram Store, has dropped by as much as 70% in the past two years. “Will tourists have the patience to scan the QR code here?” he asked, referring to a cumbersome smartphone app required for visitors.

“You don’t have to do these things in other places,” he said. “And how about masks?”

Some of those little hassles were cleared up for the CFOs to convince them to visit the city this week. Even the city’s finance secretary, Paul Chan, appeared to have passed when he returned to the city after testing positive for Covid while abroad. I also test positive upon arrival, but was allowed to skip quarantine to attend events, where he dropped his mask for keynote speeches.

Mr. Chan told reporters that health officials had treated his case like any other. “There are no privileges at all,” he said.

Despite the special conditions for VIP guests, many people have refused to visit Hong Kong. Officials say 12,000 people have signed up for Fintech, more than half the 20,000 guests expected by organizers.

Some of the biggest names on the financial conference guest list — including Citigroup’s Jane Fraser, Blackstone’s Jonathan Gray and Capital Group’s Timothy Armor — declined to attend. Five executives canceled at the last minute, with four of them citing Covid-19 or virus-like symptoms.

The bankers who visited Hong Kong this week mostly limited their stays to just a few days, attending private dinners at M+, a new contemporary art museum, and meeting staff for the first time in more than two years.

Although US lawmakers and advocacy groups have discouraged bankers from attending, officials in Beijing and Hong Kong have commended the executives.

Mr. Lee, the leader of Hong Kong, told bankers on Wednesday: “Your presence today puts an end to this welcome gathering. Of China state-controlled media trumpeted the summit as a sign of Hong Kong’s return as a global city.

One Chinese regulator, Fang Xinghai, urged visiting bankers not to read international media reports about their country. During a discussion with the heads of Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, UBS president Colm Kelleher assured the audience that “we are all very pro-China”.

However, it is not possible to shield executives from the ways that Hong Kong is trying to comply with some of Beijing’s Covid policies. Outside the ballroom at the Four Seasons Hotel, where the financial summit was held, a sign clearly spelled out “PCR testing center,” a crucial requirement that even VIPs cannot afford. can get out.

In an effort to lure more visitors back, city officials have also adapted Covid rules for the Rugby Sevens tournament, Hong Kong’s premier sporting event.

Initially, officials said no food could be consumed in the stands, but later turned around saying small amounts would be allowed, although masks would still be required. Raphaël Seghin, who arrived in Hong Kong on Tuesday and hopes to attend the tournament, said he is confused about which rules still apply.

Mr. Seghin received two doses of the Covid vaccine when he booked a flight from Marseille, France, where he runs a soap factory. Then, when he heard that most locals needed three shots to get into restaurants and other locations, he rushed to buy a booster before flying out, only to discover that it wouldn’t. valid until 14 days later. “I was very stressed during the trip,” he says, although he finds the post-arrival check-in procedures to be effective.

Mr. Seghin, 37, grew up in Hong Kong and is returning to the city to renew his permanent residency.

“I live in a world where Covid is not part of most people’s day-to-day concerns,” Mr. Seghin said. “When you get here, it’s at the heart of everything you do.”


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