Hong Kong Loses Shine Amid Tough Coronavirus Restrictions

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HONG KONG, Dec 7 (AP): The bustling, cosmopolitan business hub of Hong Kong may be losing its shine among foreign companies and expatriates with its stringent anti-pandemic rules requiring up to 21 days of quarantine for new arrivals.

The restrictions are discouraging both visitors and business travellers and add to other challenges the semi-autonomous Chinese territory faces as Beijing exerts ever more control over the former British colony.

For months, business circles have been urging the authorities to relax some quarantine restrictions, saying the city risks losing some of its international talent and appeal as a regional financial hub.

Some fumed when the city granted an exemption to the rules for JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, who visited the city for about a day in November. Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said Dimon was given an exception related to the economy and that JPMorgan “is a very huge bank with key business in Hong Kong.”

Actress Nicole Kidman also was exempted when she visited the city to film parts of a television series about expatriates, drawing ire from critics and local lawmakers over whether celebrities should be allowed to come and skip quarantine when Hong Kong residents pay dearly to return home.

Hong Kong’s “COVID-zero” stance is in line with mainland China’s policy of largely shutting its doors to the international world to try to prevent cases being brought into the country.

The restrictions have tightened further in light of the new omicron coronavirus variant, which was confirmed in at least four people in the city. Hong Kong authorities have designated about 60 countries as high-risk areas including the U.S., Britain, Australia and any country with confirmed omicron cases.

For travellers from high-risk areas, only Hong Kong residents are allowed in and they must quarantine at their own expense for 21 days at a hotel. Travellers arriving from certain African countries such as South Africa and Zimbabwe that have reported locally-transmitted omicron infections must spend seven days at a government facility while undergoing daily testing and then stay two weeks at a hotel, also at their own expense.

Only travellers from China are largely exempted from quarantine, though those travelling from Hong Kong into most provinces in mainland China must still isolate for 3 weeks.

Lam, Hong Kong’s leader, has emphasized she’s more concerned with resuming quarantine-free cross-border travel with mainland China than with international travel.

The prolonged restrictions are hurting Hong Kong’s competitiveness, said Tara Joseph, president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong. Many chambers of commerce in the city have asked repeatedly for the city to reopen to visitors at the earliest opportunity since the restrictions make it hard for businesses to connect with clients and compete internationally.

“We’re not seeing any overt effort to provide plans for how Hong Kong is going to get back on track to open its international borders, and this is very difficult for businesses,” Joseph said.

Joseph resigned from her position as AmCham president last month after failing to get the government to ease coronavirus restrictions but is staying on for six months while the chamber finds her successor.

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