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Hong Kong may let bankers skip quarantine to get them to attend its banking conference

August 23, 2022, 10:48 AM UTC
An empty Hong Kong international airport
Hong Kong may let bankers skip quarantine to attend a big banking conference in November.

Hong Kong wants to prove to Wall Street that it’s still an international center—and the city is ready to offer special treatment to its bankers to prove that, according to local media. 

On Tuesday, the Hong Kong Economic Times, citing unidentified sources, reported that the city’s government is considering granting quarantine exemptions to those attending a November banking conference. 

Hong Kong officials have presented the event as a bid to reclaim the city’s status as an international financial center, battered after political change, COVID travel restrictions and China’s tech crackdown (November will also feature the return of the Hong Kong Sevens, an international rugby tournament that would attract a different kind of visitor.)

But international bankers had one condition for their conference travel: evading the city’s system of inbound quarantine, Bloomberg reported earlier this month.

Hong Kong had earlier offered quarantine exemptions to individuals like actress Nicole Kidman and JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon, arguing that their travel would help the city’s economic development.

But while bankers might get to skip quarantine, other residents in Hong Kong may have to wait a while longer for an open border.

On Saturday, the city’s commerce secretary told local radio that “when winter comes, flu—together with the pandemic—could be a consideration before we can make any further changes” to quarantine arrangements.

Hong Kong residents, frustrated with the city’s quarantine, blasted the news of the possible exemption on social media. “This is farcical. Allowing exemptions for a banking summit but not allowing people to see dying relatives,” wrote one user on the city’s popular HK Quarantine Support Facebook group, continuing that “none of it prevents COVID.”

An outlier

Hong Kong is one of the few remaining governments that require inbound arrivals to quarantine, alongside mainland China, Macau, and Taiwan.

Currently, international arrivals have to spend three days in a designated quarantine hotel, followed by four days of restricted access to locations like bars and restaurants, but during this period, people can still go to the office.

Hong Kong has significantly reduced quarantine requirements compared to the beginning of the year, when visitors could spend as much as three weeks in isolation, if they were allowed to enter the city at all.

But having any quarantine at all makes the city an outlier, especially compared to competing financial hubs.

Singapore removed all quarantine requirements for vaccinated travelers in April. On Sunday, Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that masks would be optional everywhere except public transport and medical facilities.

Not quite open, not quite closed

Hong Kong, at least rhetorically, still adopts the COVID-zero policy followed in the rest of China. But in practice, the city tolerates thousands of COVID cases a day. On Tuesday, the city reported over 6,650 cases, the most since March 30.

Unlike mainland China, where a handful of cases can trigger a snap lockdown, Hong Kong health officials have ruled out a return to the policies used during the city’s COVID outbreak earlier this year.

Government advisers are publicly calling for “hybrid immunity,” combining vaccination with natural immunity gained from a COVID recovery.

Hong Kong’s business community is united in its distaste for the city’s quarantine rules, which it argues make the city less attractive to global travelers, talent and businesses.

They have a point. Hong Kong’s economy shrank by 1.3% in the second quarter of this year, dragging the city into recession. The government now forecasts full-year GDP growth of between -0.5% and 0.5% for 2022.

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