Hong Kong chief John Lee acknowledges discussions over easing Covid-19 curbs

Hong Kong reported more than 10,000 daily infections on Sept 5, although fatalities remained below 10 a day. PHOTO: AFP

HONG KONG - Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee has acknowledged the government is having internal conversations on whether to cut hotel quarantine, as pressure builds on the finance hub to reopen borders.

"In discussion of policies, we will, of course, bring up its pros and cons. After the discussion, once we decide, we will roll it out together," he said on Tuesday, in his first weekly news briefing since July 12.

"In terms of preventing and combating Covid, the government team is united. We hope to fully discuss overall Covid policies and make the best decisions," he added. "The principle is to use the smallest costs to achieve the biggest impact."

Mr Lee was responding to a question about whether there is an internal split within the government on when to end hotel quarantine. Bloomberg News last week cited people familiar with the matter as saying Hong Kong was targeting lifting curbs by November, ahead of a summit of global bankers and an international rugby event.

A resurgence in Covid-19 cases prompted some health officials - including Health Secretary Lo Chung-mau - to push back on that plan, a person familiar said at the time.

Mr Lo dismissed those reports in a Sunday blog post on the Health Department's website. "The report led readers to mistakenly believe that the SAR government is divided and contradictory in the fight against the epidemic," he wrote, referring to the city as a special administrative region.

Mr Lee is facing pressure from the international business community to lift hotel quarantine in Hong Kong, as pandemic policies weigh on the economy. The city leader has reduced hotel isolation from seven to three days since taking office on July 1.

On Tuesday, Mr Lee said further cuts would hinge on the number of daily infected cases. Hong Kong reported more than 10,000 daily infections Monday, although fatalities remained below 10 a day.

That surge in cases had placed a "burden" on the health care system, Mr Lee added, noting that non-urgent services had been reduced by 30 per cent in hospitals due to Covid-19 admissions.

Last week, Mr Lee said he had clinched a preliminary agreement with mainland officials to a "reverse quarantine" program that would allow people to isolate in Hong Kong before crossing the border.

That would ease pressure on the mainland's limited supply of quarantine hotels, and allow for more travel across the border, which has been severely restricted for more than two years. BLOOMBERG

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