Hong Kong defends allowing JPMorgan CEO to skip Covid-19 quarantine

The city's government granted Mr Jamie Dimon an individual exemption from quarantine rules, Mrs Carrie Lam said. PHOTO: REUTERS

HONG KONG (BLOOMBERG) - Hong Kong let JPMorgan Chase & Co Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon skip the city's 21-day hotel quarantine because of the size of the bank's operations in the Asian financial hub, saying his trip was relatively low risk.

"The justification is related to the economy, as this is a very huge bank with key business in Hong Kong," Chief Executive Carrie Lam said in a regular briefing on Tuesday (Nov 16). "He needs to come to Hong Kong for work for about a day."

The city's government granted Mr Dimon an individual exemption from quarantine rules, Mrs Lam said.

"There were limitations on his itinerary and his entire trip was restricted," Mrs Lam said. "The risk is totally manageable."

That's despite recent efforts to do away with any exemptions in order to convince Chinese officials that the former British colony was tightening its virus control measures before any border opening with the mainland.

In August, the government granted an exemption to actress Nicole Kidman who had flown into the city to film a TV series, prompting a brief outcry from frustrated residents who have been forced to pay out for expensive hotel stays.

HSBC Holdings Plc Chairman Mark Tucker passed through a three-week quarantine the same month.

Hong Kong, which is pursuing a "Covid Zero" strategy alongside China, has imposed some of the world's strictest travel rules to keep the virus out.

Measures include mandatory hotel quarantines of three weeks for any resident returning to the city from the UK or US, regardless of vaccination status, while most non-resident visitors and tourists are banned.

On Monday, Mr Dimon said Hong Kong's travel restrictions "make it harder" for the bank to retain talent in the global financial hub.

In May, the local American Chamber of Commerce released a survey saying more than 40 per cent of its members were considering whether to leave the city, with Singapore among the most popular destinations.

The city of 7.4 million has been relatively successful keeping the virus at bay, with no locally transmitted cases for months and just over 200 deaths since the pandemic began.

Still, a single Covid-positive individual in the community is considered cause for serious alarm among authorities.

On Tuesday, Mrs Lam said the government was considering stricter measures for flight crews after two Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd pilots who tested positive were briefly free in the city, leading to the quarantine of 120 school students and others.

Hong Kong flight crew already face some of the most onerous restrictions in the world, with Cathay Pacific yesterday saying any crew members who stayed in Frankfurt this month will be quarantined for 21 days.

"We have told airlines that it is very concerning and our overall anti-epidemic effort is affected if these cases emerge again," Mrs Lam said at a briefing on Tuesday. "For now, I think the measures taken by the government and the airlines are appropriate. We will monitor the situation and will resort to stricter measures if necessary that may affect Hong Kong's daily operation and economy."

The latest cases won't affect talks with China to open quarantine-free travel, she said. The government has asked flight crew to reduce their activity after returning home.

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