Hong Kong loses shine amid tough coronavirus restrictions

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Hong Kong’s bustling, cosmopolitan business hub could lose its sheen among foreign companies and expatriates with its stringent anti-epidemic rules requiring up to 21 days of quarantine for new arrivals.

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HONG KONG – Hong Kong’s bustling, cosmopolitan business hub could be losing its sheen among foreign companies and expatriates with its stringent anti-epidemic rules requiring up to 21 days of quarantine for new arrivals.

The restrictions are discouraging both visitors and business travelers and add to other challenges facing the semi-autonomous Chinese territory as Beijing exercises more control over the former British colony.

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

Some were outraged when the city relaxed the rules to JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, who visited the city for almost a day in November. Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said Dimon was given an economy-related exception and that JPMorgan is “a very large bank with major business in Hong Kong.”

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

Hong Kong’s “Covid-zero” stance is in line with the policy of mainland China, which is closing its doors to the international world to try to stop cases being brought into the country.

Restrictions have been tightened in light of the new Omicron coronavirus disease, which was confirmed in at least four people in the city. Hong Kong authorities have designated around 60 countries as high-risk areas, including the US, UK, Australia and any country with confirmed omicron cases.

For travelers from high-risk areas, only Hong Kong residents are allowed inside and must quarantine at their own expense for 21 days in a hotel. Travelers arriving from some African countries, such as South Africa and Zimbabwe, who have reported locally transmitted Omicron infections, will have to spend seven days in a government facility during daily testing and then stay two weeks in a hotel, that too on their own. at the expense.

Only travelers from China are largely exempted from quarantine, although those traveling from Hong Kong to most provinces in mainland China will still have to isolate for 3 weeks.

Hong Kong’s leader Lam has stressed that she is more concerned with resuming cross-border travel with mainland China than with international travel.

Tara Joseph, president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong, said prolonged sanctions are hurting Hong Kong’s competitiveness. Several of the city’s chambers of commerce have repeatedly asked the city to reopen to visitors as soon as possible because restrictions make it difficult for businesses to connect with customers and compete internationally.

“We don’t see any clear effort to provide a plan for how Hong Kong is about to get back on track to open its international borders, and it’s going to be very difficult for businesses,” Joseph said.

Joseph resigned from his position as Amcham president last month after the government failed to ease coronavirus restrictions, but is staying for six months while the chamber has found his successor.

Frederick Golob, president of The European Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong, wrote an open letter to the Hong Kong government in August saying the city’s strict quarantine “could lead many in the international community to question whether they Wants to be stuck in Hong Kong indefinitely. Kong when the rest of the world is moving on. ,

Many foreigners living in Hong Kong are tired of restrictions and are looking to move to greener pastures. In a recent AmCham survey more than 40% of members voted and said they could leave the city.

“I think most expatriates in Hong Kong try to stay here as long as possible… said Mark Tibbets, managing director of recruitment agency Michael Page.

He said that immediate action is needed to stop many qualified professionals from leaving.

“I really think that going into the next year, if there aren’t clear signs that there will be an improvement, or at least easing of the quarantine restrictions, then people have to plan where they have to commit – especially things like education. Like (for their children), ”he said.

Summer Wang, an American expatriate who arrived in the city long before the pandemic began, is planning to return to the US before Christmas.

“I knew I would leave Hong Kong eventually due to work reasons, but I decided to leave sooner because of the 21-day quarantine,” said Wang, who has done two hotel quarantines in the city since the pandemic began .

“Quarantine is bearable once or twice, but unless you are prepared to be isolated from family for long, unpredictable periods of time, current quarantine measures are untenable,” she said. “I’m paying to be sad.”

Some companies in Hong Kong, such as JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, have begun offering to cover quarantine costs for employees. A 21-day stay at the city’s cheapest quarantine hotel costs as little as $1,200 for one person.

Black Sheep Restaurants, a Hong Kong-based restaurant group offering a variety of cuisines, is planning to spend $650,000 on its 250-plus foreign employees to see their families and cover the resulting quarantine costs, said Syed Asim Hussain, its co-founder

“You know, we do this weird thing that is giving hospitality to strangers, and taking care of people through food and drink night after night,” Hussain said in an interview. “And I felt we had to take care of ourselves in this difficult environment.”

It is painful financially, but he said he hopes the initiative will “create immeasurable goodwill in our community and beyond.”

Sandeep Arora, a restaurant manager at Black Sheep’s New Punjab Club, said the effort would allow him to visit his hometown in Punjab, India, as paying for tickets, quarantine and testing would have been beyond his means.

Arora looks forward to eating her mother’s brinjal ka bharta – a brinjal dish usually served with roti, a flatbread – and more importantly, watching her son.

“The main thing is that my son – he is growing very fast. He was six years old when I last saw him and now he is turning eight.” “Every day is very important … especially for me as a father to be with him.”

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video journalist Alice Fung and news assistant Janice Cheng contributed to this report.

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