New Hong Kong leader John Lee vows to review Covid-19 hotel quarantine policy

Cleaners dump garbage outside a quarantine hotel during the Covid-19 pandemic in Hong Kong, on April 2, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS

HONG KONG (BLOOMBERG) - Hong Kong's incoming leader John Lee said he plans to quickly review mandatory quarantine measures for incoming travellers, including suggestions to isolate at home or reduce the number of days required to stay in designated hotels.

Mr Lee, who will succeed Mrs Carrie Lam as Hong Kong's chief executive on July 1, told the South China Morning Post that he would seek to reduce inconveniences for international travellers "without bringing extra risk to the mainland at the same time".

He also plans to prioritise the full reopening of the China border, without saying how he could accomplish both goals.

"One thing I will do very quickly together with my secretary for health is a quick review, looking at statistics and figures to ascertain how we can achieve the best result with the least cost," the SCMP cited Mr Lee as saying in an interview.

A representative from Mr Lee's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Hong Kong has endured some of the world's strictest quarantine measures to keep Covid-19 at bay for more than two years, effectively shutting it off from the rest of the world.

The curbs have led to an exodus of expat workers and residents and damaged the economy, raising questions about the city's future as a financial centre.

While a travel ban on non-residents was lifted last month, provided they are fully vaccinated, all international arrivals are still subject to seven-day hotel quarantine.

The border restrictions stand in contrast to much of the rest of the world, which has dismantled pandemic curbs and is treating the virus as endemic.

"The second thing is, what are possible interim measures and interim goals before we can reach the final goal?" Mr Lee added in the interview, according to the SCMP. "The quarantine period is causing inconvenience to travellers. Is there a way of addressing that inconvenience so that (we can) reduce it a little bit? These are options."

The interim measures could include point-to-point travel for individuals, like a "closed-loop" arrangement, the Post reported, citing an unidentified person.

Hong Kong's future will come under the spotlight next week as the city marks 25 years of Chinese rule in the former British colony.

Beijing imposed a sweeping national security law in 2020 to snuff out a pro-democracy - and sometimes violent - movement that brought millions of protesters to the streets a year earlier, generating an international outcry and sanctions on key leaders.

The city is rife with speculation over whether Chinese President Xi Jinping will visit Hong Kong to mark the celebrations, an event that has also led local officials to tighten Covid-19 controls in the past few weeks.

The question afterward is whether Mr Lee will be able to diverge more completely with Mr Xi's Covid-Zero policy on the mainland to allow Hong Kong to again serve as a financial hub connecting the city with the rest of the world.

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