Covid-19: Hong Kong’s Carrie Lam Responds to Eased Quarantine for Vaccinated Execs

Bloomberg Quicktake: Now published this video item, entitled “Covid-19: Hong Kong’s Carrie Lam Responds to Eased Quarantine for Vaccinated Execs” – below is their description.

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam responds to criticism about allowing vaccinated senior executives from 500 listed firms to travel more easily compared to others who must undergo strict Covid-19 quarantine. The current norm is that everyone arriving in Hong Kong must isolate in a hotel for up to 21 days.

“It is not a free-for-all situation,” said Lam.

Vaccinated senior executives from about 500 companies included in indexes like the Hang Seng and Hang Seng China Enterprises can seek permission to travel in and out of the city without needing to follow the current quarantine requirement, Hong Kong’s Financial Services and the Treasury Bureau said in a statement.

The clarification of a wider policy of exemption for vaccinated executives comes in the wake of an earlier announcement that some vaccinated senior bankers can skip quarantine. However, the move is likely to deepen public ire over the special treatment, as Hong Kong’s traveler quarantine requirements are some of the strictest in the world and require people to pay for hotel room stays — the supply of which is rapidly drying up for the summer months.

The current rules stipulate that everyone arriving in Hong Kong from outside China must isolate in a hotel for up to 21 days. Pressure is building on the government to drastically relax quarantine and other social restrictions for vaccinated people as incentives to re-open borders and to boost Hong Kong’s low vaccination rate.

The latest quarantine exemption is available to other firms from financial industries like banking, mobile payments, insurance, securities and futures intermediaries. Companies are allowed a limited quota of exemptions and the government will review applications based on criteria like where the executive is traveling from. The executives must undergo testing and are required to stick to pre-approved itineraries.

An earlier version of the quarantine exemption policy has existed since last year for executives coming from mainland China. Singapore, Asia’s other major financial hub, does not grant exemptions from travel quarantine for business executives.

Banks lauded the new announcement.

“We welcome the new measure providing more convenience to vaccinated senior executives when traveling to Hong Kong. This helps encourage resumption of necessary business travel and brings business activities gradually back to normal, which is particularly important to Hong Kong as an international financial center,” said a Standard Chartered Plc spokeswoman in a statement.

HSBC Holdings Plc said in a statement, “While the pandemic has showed how much could be accomplished virtually, a measured approach to facilitate business travels to and from Hong Kong could help stimulate more economic activities across a range of sectors.

The government has not signaled that it plans to significantly relax social-distancing rules for vaccinated people, such as mandatory outdoor masking, citing the low vaccination uptake. Some medical experts also continue to recommend social restriction remain in place in order to prevent another wave of Covid-19, particularly as the vaccination rate is low, though local infection numbers have hovered at or near zero for weeks.

Some critics argue, however, that it’s precisely the lack of privileges for vaccinated people that is keeping the inoculation rate depressed — just 13.4% of Hong Kong’s population of 7.5 million has been fully inoculated, according to Bloomberg’s Covid-19 Vaccine Tracker, far behind other finance centers like London and Singapore.

The special treatment meted out to a small elite of executives is likely to further stoke public anger, already at high levels following more than a year of strict social restrictions and quarantine policies that have seen thousands forced from their homes to isolate in government-run camps. The continuing quarantine policies for travelers also means that as vaccinated people in the U.S. and European countries plan their summer travel, almost no one will be able to travel into Hong Kong without shouldering the prohibitive time and cost of quarantine.

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