Hong Kong faces ‘tough balancing act’ in easing border rules, official says

Hong Kong faces a difficult balancing act as the city aims to lift some border restrictions on international visitors starting next month, according to a government official.

Chinese territory intends to relax the travel ban on flights from nine countriesincluding the United States, United Kingdom and Australia, and allowing those travelers to quarantine in a hotel for seven days instead of 14. The changes will go into effect April 1.

“It’s very important for us to meet the needs of international entrepreneurs, but we also have a very large population in Hong Kong that needs to be eased border restrictions on mainland China, because it’s also a very important part of Hong Kong to reunite families and businesses,” Bernard Chan, who convenes the Executive Council, told CNBC’s “Squawk Box Asia” on Monday.

“So it’s a very difficult balancing act,” he said, especially China continues to see the outbreak of Covid.

Executive Council of Hong Kong is a cabinet-like body that advises the city’s chief executive.

China has battled its worst Covid outbreak yet since early 2020, with local governments blaming the new BA.2 omicron variant for the current wave sweeping across the country. Biggest city Shanghai began a two-phase lockdown on Monday.

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Hong Kong has stuck to a “no motion” coronavirus policy, like in mainland China, seeking to quell all outbreaks with sweeping restrictions and quarantine measures.

The city reported 7,685 new Covid infections on Monday and 168 deaths, according to official dataas the latest wave of omicron infections continues to ease.

From March 22 to 28, a average is 4,217.4 cases were reported per day, down from an average of 8,704.4 cases per day reported over the previous seven-day period, according to government data.

However, Hong Kong still lags behind its regional rivals – especially financial hub Singapore, Last Thursday it will lift nearly all border restrictions on vaccinated travelers starting next month.

“As the rest of the world is opening up, we need to try to find a way out,” said Chan. “Starting April 1, we started reducing the hotel quarantine from 14 days to 7 days. Obviously, it’s still not good enough, but it’s still a big improvement,” he added. .

Covid impacts business center status

According to a recent report from European Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong, The city’s zero-Covid strategy “has paid a heavy price for the Hong Kong business community.”

The survey found that 49% of companies polled said they were considering moving offices completely or partially in the next 12 months.

Furthermore, existing restrictions have hampered the corporate strategy or recruitment plans of 2 out of 3 companies in Hong Kong, the report added.

Acknowledging “these are difficult times” for Hong Kong, Chan said he remains confident the city will regain its status as a global business hub once the pandemic is over.

“I believe Covid will end. The question is when will it end,” he said. “Hong Kong remains very attractive as a hub of Greater China Bay and the Chinese economy continues to grow. I think people will come back.”

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