HONGKONG – Hong Kong is dropping a provision for most consular staff to serve quarantine at home, opting for hotel stays instead, as it doubles down on some of the world’s toughest coronavirus curbs, hoping to sway mainland China to open the border with the city.
The global financial hub is following Beijing’s lead in retaining draconian travel curbs, in contrast to a global trend of opening up and living with the coronavirus.
“We are doing this to ensure the risk is reduced to the minimum, because we can see that the cases in Hong Kong are imported cases,” Chief Secretary John Lee told reporters on Monday, adding that the new rules take effect on Nov. 12.
The government had identified two imported cases linked to consular staff, it said in a separate statement.
Until now, staff at consulates have only been required to quarantine at home, unlike most others arriving in Hong Kong, who have had to isolate themselves in a hotel for up to 21 days at their own cost.
The new rules cover all those below the rank of consul general, who will still be permitted home quarantine.
Crossborder truck drivers, flight and cargo vessel crews, and government officials will remain exempt.
Hong Kong officials faced criticism in August after it emerged that Australian actor Nicole Kidman had been allowed to skip quarantine for “the purpose of performing designated professional work”.
Authorities are betting that a tightening in quarantine and patient discharge rules in recent weeks could help sway Beijing to ease border curbs between the semi-autonomous city and mainland China, its primary source of growth.
On the other hand, international business lobby groups have warned Hong Kong may lose talent and investment, as well as competitive ground to rival finance hubs such as Singapore, unless it eases travel curbs.
Despite barely any recent local cases and an environment virtually free of COVID-19, Hong Kong’s mandatory quarantine term is 21 days for arrivals from most countries, with an extra 14 days in a designated facility for recovered people leaving hospital.