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Hong Kong faces ‘difficult balancing act’ to ease border rules, official says


Hong Kong faces a difficult balancing act as the city aims to lift some border restrictions for international travelers from next month, according to a government official.

The Chinese territory intends to ease the ban on travel on flights from nine countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia, and allow these travelers to self-quarantine. in a hotel for seven days instead of 14. The changes will come into effect on April 1.

“It is very important that we have to meet the needs of international business people, but we also have a very large population in Hong Kong who need the easing of the border restriction to the Chinese mainland, because it is also a very important part of Hong Kong for family reunions and business as well,” Bernard Chan, Chairman of the Executive Council, told CNBC’s “Squawk Box Asia” on Monday.

“So it’s a very difficult balancing act,” he said, especially as China continues to see pockets of Covid outbreaks.

The Hong Kong Executive Council is a cabinet-like body that advises the city’s chief executive.

China is battling its worst Covid outbreak since the start of 2020, with local governments blaming the new omicron BA.2 variant for the current wave sweeping the country. Shanghai’s largest city began a two-stage lockdown on Monday.

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Hong Kong has firmly stuck to a “dynamic zero” coronavirus policy, as in mainland China, seeking to eradicate all outbreaks with sweeping restrictions and quarantine.

The city reported 7,685 new Covid infections and 168 deaths on Monday, according to official data, as the latest wave of omicron infections continues to decline.

Between March 22 and March 28, an average of 4,217.4 cases were reported per day, down from the average of 8,704.4 cases per day reported in the previous 7-day period, according to the government data.

Still, Hong Kong lags behind its regional peers – particularly rival financial hub Singapore, which said last Thursday it would lift almost all border restrictions for vaccinated travelers from next month.

“As the rest of the world opens up, we have to try to find a way out,” Chan said. “As of April 1, we are starting to reduce hotel quarantine time from 14 days to 7 days. Obviously, it’s not enough, but it’s still a big improvement,” he added. .

Covid impacts business hub status

According to a recent report by the European Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong, the city’s zero-Covid strategy “has cost Hong Kong’s business community dearly”.

The survey found that 49% of companies surveyed said they were planning to relocate all or part of their offices within the next 12 months.

Moreover, the existing restrictions hampered the business strategy or hiring plans of 2 out of 3 companies in Hong Kong, the report added.

Acknowledging “these are difficult times” for Hong Kong, Chan said he remained confident the city would regain its status as a global trading hub when the pandemic ended.

“I believe Covid will be over. It’s a question of when it’s over,” he said. “Hong Kong is still very attractive as a center of the Greater China Bay Area and the Chinese economy continues to grow. I think people will come back.”


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William

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