Hong Kong leader ‘explores’ easing of controversial COVID restrictions | Economy

John Lee says changes to the controversial hotel quarantine scheme should not cause “chaos or confusion”.

Hong Kong is actively investigating changes to strict COVID-19 restrictions that have devastated the economy and driven talent out of the financial center, with authorities hoping to make an announcement soon, the city’s leader said.

Hong Kong chief executive John Lee said on Tuesday his government planned to make an announcement soon about the city’s controversial hotel quarantine policy amid mounting frustration over China’s deteriorating image as a place to live and conduct business. to do.

Lee, who has pledged since taking office in July to revive Hong Kong’s ailing international status, said his government was aware of the need to ensure “good connections” with the rest of the world.

“We know exactly where we need to go and want to be consistent as we go in that direction. We’d like to have an orderly opening,” Lee told reporters, warning of any move that could lead to “chaos or confusion.”

Lee’s comments come days after organizers of the Hong Kong Marathon and World Dragon Boat Racing Championships, two of the biggest events on the sports calendar, announced that the events would be canceled and moved to Thailand, respectively, due to the city’s pandemic rules.

Hong Kong is one of the few places on Earth still adhering to strict pandemic controls as authorities try to adapt to mainland China’s draconian ‘zero COVID’ policy aimed at curbing the virus. eradicate almost any price.

Under current rules, all arrivals must be placed in hotel quarantine for three days, followed by four days of medical supervision, during which they are prohibited from entering locations such as bars and restaurants.

Arrivals had to undergo seven days of hotel quarantine until last month and were previously limited to 21 days in a hotel.

Local media previously reported that authorities are considering completely replacing the hotel quarantine with seven days of medical surveillance, which would still severely limit the movements of arrivals into the city.

The South China Morning Post newspaper reported Tuesday that Lee and his cabinet had reached an agreement to end the hotel quarantine at a later date, citing anonymous sources.

In addition to a Beijing-led crackdown on dissent that has affected rights and freedoms in the former British colony, COVID restrictions — including mask mandates, a mainland Chinese-style health coding system, and restrictions on public gatherings — have led to a mass exodus of residents.

More than 200,000 people left Hong Kong, which bills itself as “Asia’s World City”, between 2020 and mid-2022, with more expected to follow.

Hong Kong entered its second recession in three years in the second quarter, with gross domestic product (GDP) shrinking 1.4 percent after falling 3.9 percent in the January-March period. On Monday, Finance Minister Paul Chan said the city’s fiscal situation was worse than expected, forecasting a deficit of up to $100 billion Hong Kong dollars (12.7 billion dollars), the second-worst-ever deficit this year.

Gary Ng, a senior economist at Natixis in Hong Kong, said Hong Kong’s patchy approach to reopening would not be enough to restore the city’s plummeting competitiveness.

“Everything is relative. Moving from the so-called ‘3+4’ scheme to ‘0+7’ will not help much, as the divergence from regional peers, such as Singapore, is still extremely large,” Ng told Al Jazeera .

“It’s not just about border control, but also about domestic rules. Mandatory testing and health regulations are the main factors that create uncertainties and reduce Hong Kong’s attractiveness and quality of life. It is an urgent task for the Hong Kong government to immediately move beyond COVID for its economy.”

Ng said the policies also put a strain on the city’s finances in the form of “unsustainable” COVID-related spending.

“No one benefits from the current policy,” he said.

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