Hong Kong officials deliver treats to quarantine-riled bankers

Frustration is mounting in the Asian financial hub as its strategy to combat the virus deviates from rival centres. PHOTO: REUTERS

HONG KONG (BLOOMBERG) - Officials at Hong Kong's central bank are going out on their own in trying to quell the growing anger in the city's financial community, delivering care packages to those ensnared by one of the world's strictest quarantine regimes.

According to a spokesman for the Hong Kong Monetary Authority (HKMA), senior executives have "from their own pockets" sent "confectioneries to a handful of executives under quarantine as a token of personal regards", partially confirming an earlier report by the Hong Kong Economic Times.

In an interview with the local media outlet released on Monday (Dec 13), HKMA chief executive Eddie Yue said that the authority had put together a team to deliver "wine and gourmet food" to quarantined finance workers in the hope of making them "less angry with Hong Kong".

The spokesman refrained from giving more specifics on the efforts or the scope of the programme.

Frustration is mounting in the Asian financial hub as its strategy to combat the virus deviates from rival centres such as Singapore, London and New York.

Officials are pursuing a zero-Covid-19 approach in an effort to reopen the border with mainland China, placing incoming travellers in hotel quarantine for as long as three weeks.

After the outbreak of the Omicron coronavirus variant, the strategy is now even being tightened further, forcing travellers from the United States and other countries into a government-run quarantine centre for one week upon arrival.

Foreign business groups in Hong Kong are warning that this puts the city's status as a global financial hub at risk. An October survey found that almost half of major international banks and asset managers are contemplating moving employees or functions out of Hong Kong.

Costs are also adding up for lenders in the city. Banks such as Goldman Sachs and UBS are offering compensation of about US$5,000 (S$6,800) for its staff to cover the costs of quarantine stays. A stay at Hong Kong's designated quarantine hotel can cost between HK$500 and HK$3,630 a night for a non-suite room.

Not everyone has had to endure quarantine. JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon was last month given an exemption when he came for a 32-hour visit to the city.

Australian actress Nicole Kidman was also given a pass to film a series about expatriates in the city. Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam defended giving Mr Dimon an exemption, saying it was justified from an economic perspective as Mr Dimon runs a "very huge bank with key business in Hong Kong".

Mrs Lam's strategy has also received backing from the biggest bank in the city, HSBC Holdings.

In an interview last month in Singapore, HSBC CEO Noel Quinn said it was important for Hong Kong to establish what it needs to establish with China for the reopening.

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