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COVID isolation could be maintained until 2024 in Hong Kong

Hong Kong skyline is pictured from Victoria Peak in Hong Kong, China January 2, 2020. REUTERS/Navesh Chitrakar

Because of its strict COVID-19 restrictions, Hong Kong may only reopen in early 2024, putting the city’s reputation as a financial centre in jeopardy, according to a draught study from the city’s European Chamber of Commerce.

The news: The chamber claimed in the draught that the low efficiency of domestically developed vaccinations is driving mainland China to retain rigorous travel restrictions.

  • The European Chamber of Commerce did not respond to a request for comment on the report.
  • The most likely scenario for Hong Kong is that it will remain closed until China’s mRNA vaccination is implemented across its 1.4 billion population, which could take until late 2023 or early 2024, according to the report.
  • If this is the case, the chamber warns that a “cascade effect” of corporations leaving the Asian financial centre could occur.

What’s going on: While Hong Kong has managed to keep the virus under control for much of 2021, the former British colony has become one of the world’s most isolated cities as a result of travel restrictions and intermittent lockdowns, which have accelerated a brain drain.

  • In January, Hong Kong saw an outbreak of diseases that officials have battled to contain.
  • Multinational companies would progressively relocate China-focused teams to the mainland or shift their Asian regional teams to Singapore or Seoul, according to the chamber.
  • Hong Kong’s appeal as an international corporate hub, as well as its ability to contribute to China’s economy, could be jeopardised.
  • The departure of international talent could also undermine the city’s “potential to maintain world class universities”, it said.        
  • Hong Kong relies on business travellers and imported commodities to survive.
  • Tough flying limitations have severely limited its function as one of the world’s principal transhipment and passenger hubs, allowing just a small number of people to land and a small number to transit.
  • Singapore, on the other hand, has relaxed its coronavirus restrictions, including border check.

Facts and figures: Only over 70 per cent of Hong Kong residents have had two vaccinations, compared to 91 per cent of Singapore’s eligible population.

  • The majority of Hong Kong’s elderly are unvaccinated.
  • Other “average likelihood” scenarios listed by the chamber include an uncontrolled epidemic on the mainland leading to Hong Kong locking its border with China and reopening its borders to the rest of the globe.
  • Another scenario would be an uncontrollable breakout in Hong Kong, rendering any extra limitations useless. Up to 20,000 elderly people could die as a result of this.
  • The chamber recommended to the government that immunizations be accelerated and quarantine be reduced from 21 days to 7 to 14 days, which would be welcomed by the foreign business sector.
  • Foreign businesses should assume that Hong Kong would very likely be “semi-closed for international travel in the coming 12-36 months”. Talent, and holding on to it, would be “a precious commodity”, it said.
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