Hong Kong chief Carrie Lam says any Covid-19 fatality would be of concern

Hong Kong's strict "Covid Zero" policy has increasingly strained the city's longstanding reputation as a regional hub. PHOTO: AFP

HONG KONG (BLOOMBERG) - Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam said even a single fatality from Covid-19 would be a major cause for concern, underscoring the ultra-strict "Covid Zero" approach that has raised questions about the city's viability as an international financial centre.

In an interview with Bloomberg Television on Monday (Oct 11), Mrs Lam said she was "duty bound to protect my people" with travel restrictions even as other finance centres such as Singapore open up and shift to a strategy of living with the virus.

"Any fatality or increase in fatality will cause a major concern in society," Mrs Lam said.

While she acknowledged concerns over travel by the business community, she said most companies were in Hong Kong in order to access the mainland.

Mrs Lam's government has implemented a strict "Covid Zero" policy in order to reopen the border with China. But that approach, which does not tolerate any local infections, has increasingly strained the city's longstanding reputation as a regional hub and an economic and financial gateway to China.

Mrs Lam said on Monday that mainland officials want Hong Kong to more closely follow their own strict approach to stamping out the virus locally and do not want the city to be a source of Covid-19 infections, she said.

"From the mainland perspective, the practices adopted in Hong Kong should be as aligned as possible with the mainland practices, but they've also accepted that we are operating under very different regime," she said.

"The discussions between the two sides are meant to find a way forward that, respecting the differences in the systems between the two places, that there could be assurance that we will not be sort of the weak link in terms of Covid-19 control."

While Hong Kong has barely had any local coronavirus cases in recent months, there is growing frustration among foreign business chambers and residents about the city's refusal to relax strict border curbs that require returning travellers to spend as long as 21 days in a mandatory hotel quarantine even if they are fully vaccinated.

Even as other global cities such as New York and London open up, mainland officials still have not provided Hong Kong with any clear metrics or benchmarks that could see travel restrictions eased. One of Mrs Lam's advisers recently told Bloomberg that the city's "hands are tied".

Mrs Lam last week delivered what she said may be her last annual policy address after a tumultuous term that saw disruptive anti-government protests, a national security law met by widespread international criticism and the Covid-19 pandemic, which worsened a recession and led to unprecedented border controls in the top Asian financial hub.

She has not said whether she will seek a second five-year term.

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