Mon. Jan 24th, 2022

Hong Kong has “no definite timeline” for lifting restrictions at international borders this year, a top official said, despite the heavy toll that the city’s zero-Covid policy has taken on as its status as a transportation and financial hub.

Hong Kong’s elimination strategy, which includes a 21-day quarantine for international arrivals, has made it increasingly difficult for managers to use the city as a regional hub. Passenger flights to eight countries, including the United Kingdom and the United States, have been banned and air freight services reduce.

The city will also ban transit flights from about 150 countries categorized as high-risk due to the Omicron variant from Sunday for at least a month.

But the chaos caused by the global Omicron outbreak has undermined the Hong Kong government and the public’s confidence in the city’s zero-covid strategy, Edward Yau, Secretary for Trade and Economic Development, said in an interview with the Financial Times.

“It will be difficult to address [the question of a timeline], as it will be subject to many conditions and situations. . . “I don’t think anyone can give you a definite timeline as such,” Yau said.

Hong Kong recorded just 213 deaths as a result of the pandemic and avoided city-wide restrictions. In contrast, the United Kingdom recorded 174,233 Covid-19 deaths.

But international affairs have expressed concern that the city has not articulated an exit strategy and is becoming cut off from the world, leading to an exodus of talent.

That of Hong Kong population decreased by 1.2 percent in the first half of 2021, according to the latest census records, with 88,800 applying for a UK national (overseas) program from 30 September last year path to citizenship. The population movements were fueled in part by a political repression of freedom of expression that followed pro-democracy protests in 2019.

The Hong Kong government also came under fire after senior officials violated official advice against participating in large gatherings by a birthday party for a mainland officer with whom two Covid cases were found.

But Yau opposed it despite a recent Omicron outbreak which led to the government reintroducing social distancing rules, the zero-Covid strategy protected the city, with most cases detected while the carriers were in quarantine.

“That is why we are so determined that we must maintain this policy. . . “The Hong Kong formula is one that gives us maximum security, safety and normality to the local business environment, and it has been achieved since we saw a lion’s share of the time last year,” he said.

Edward Yau, Hong Kong Trade Secretary

Edward Yau, Hong Kong’s Trade Secretary, says there is widespread public support for the government’s Covid restrictions © Romeo Gacad / AFP / Getty

Yau added that the popular sentiment was in favor of the zero-Covid measures and business needed to adapt to the challenges of the virus.

“If you go out and ask the local community, people are still very determined that they really want Hong Kong to remain a Covid-safe place for daily life,” he said.

“Some cities have [had] to adjust [to Omicron] by the on-and-off closure of the community. “Some have suffered from a very high toll on their public health system,” said Yau.

Hong Kong’s zero Covid policy linked to a similar strategy in mainland China. The government argues that the city must maintain the elimination policy to reopen its border with the mainland.

Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s chief executive, told lawmakers on Wednesday that talks with the mainland authorities on reopening the border were in the final stages. But she added that the city should not record any cases transmitted locally for at least 14 days before this can happen.

Hong Kong’s restrictions and decision to ban passenger flights have prompted other carriers to suspend services to the area.

Critics also blamed slow vaccination rates, especially among the elderly, for the city’s inability to lift quarantine restrictions.

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