Hong Kong’s New Future as China’s Covid Quarantine Haven

The world has moved on. Many have packed up and left. Those of us still living in Hong Kong seem to fall easily into a mental coma induced by years of Covid-19 restrictions. With its border to mainland China — and everywhere else — still partly shut, this island city can feel suffocating. To get more news about China Coronavirus Updates, you can visit shine news official website.

But pessimism is not in our nature. Now that we’ve chosen to stay, it is time to ask more constructive questions. How can Hong Kong reverse this economic downturn? What is our path forward?

The pandemic’s economic toll is most evident in the retail, restaurant and hotel industries. Three years ago, they employed more than 600,000 people, or about 15% of Hong Kong’s labor force. Before Covid-19, mainland Chinese tourists accounted for about one-third of total retail sales, a testament to the open economy that Hong Kong once was. That tourist dollar evaporated when China closed its borders in March 2020. Employment in the sectors has fallen by more than 20% from the 2019 peak. So it is encouraging that Hong Kong is easing travel restrictions, and visitors are starting to return to the city.

All of the recent policy moves are incremental, but they add up. For inbound travelers, Hong Kong is ending a five-day flight ban for airlines that carried passengers infected with Covid-19. It convinced the Shenzhen government to raise its daily quota for quarantine hotel rooms from 1,300 to 2,000, to ease the busiest border crossing into mainland China. While the seven-day hotel quarantine remains in place for now, starting in August, Hong Kong will provide 23,000 quarantine rooms daily, up from 12,500 currently, to accommodate more travelers. That’s about one quarter of the city’s hotel capacity.

So consider the following policy proposition: With China sticking with Covid-zero and the border reopening nowhere in sight, can Hong Kong serve as the meeting point for China-related businesses, and a more gentle quarantine hub for those who want to go to the mainland?In the last month and a half, I have been busy meeting visitors from Shanghai and New York. Mainland company executives have been coming on work trips since early June — in fact, quite a few fled Shanghai as soon as Covid lockdowns eased. Some global asset managers bit the bullet as well. After all, Zoom meetings can only go so far.

As for overseas Chinese who have not seen their folks back home for years, Hong Kong makes a logical transition, too. Flights to China are rare, expensive and can be cancelled at any minute.

Once these travelers land in Hong Kong, they tend to stay here for a while. Entry into China is by no means guaranteed — these days, you need to hire scalpers just to have a shot at locking in a quarantine room in Shenzhen. And after a draconian two-month lockdown in Shanghai, some mainland visitors are in no hurry to return. All of a sudden, the famously bustling entrepot and its gruff residents come across humane and gentle.

This should create some tourist dollars for Hong Kong’s services sector. Hotel occupancy rose to 70% as of May, the latest data available show. This figure is probably higher now. Just like everywhere else, the pandemic closed many restaurants but new ones are popping up. Good luck getting a table at JIA Group’s popular new venues such as Estro and Andō. As for those Shanghai outcasts who miss the flavors at home, Wanchai’s Yong Fu serves authentic drunken crab — at twice the cost.

For decades, Hong Kong prospered from clever arbitrage trades, offering access to the China market as well as things that China could not provide. Property rights were respected, and mainland companies tapped onto cheap dollar funding. As these trades dry up, new opportunities emerge. Covid-Zero lite and a gentle transition into the mainland could be another lucrative value proposition.

During his recent trip to mark the 25th year since the return of the former British colony, President Xi Jinping extolled the merits of “one country, two systems” as the framework for Hong Kong. Everyone is reading the tea leaves, trying to figure out what he meant exactly. If the emphasis was on “two systems,” especially with regard to the city’s Covid policies, Hong Kong still has a future.
Publicado en Imagenes | Fotos en julio 18 at 07:15
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