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Hong Kong Officials Target End to Hotel Quarantine in November

Hong Kong Officials Target End to Hotel Quarantine in November John Lee, right, and Lo Chung-mau

Hong Kong is targeting an end to hotel quarantine in November, ahead of a summit of global bankers and an international rugby competition, even as a resurgence in Covid-19 cases prompts health officials to push back on the plan, according to people familiar with the debate.

Chief Executive John Lee is leaning toward scrapping hotel quarantine before the November events to signal Hong Kong is back in business, despite the objections of some in his administration, the people said. Health Secretary Lo Chung-mau is among those who want to tighten restrictions as cases surge, one person added, on the hope that suppressing cases will lead to the reopening of the mainland border.

The momentum is on the side of ending quarantine on the international border over resuming unimpeded travel with the mainland, one of the people said, as many in the government view public opinion in favor of opening to boost the economy. A final decision will ultimately hinge on the daily case count, the number of fatalities and public perception, the person said.
In a statement, a Hong Kong government spokesman said there was “no disagreement” in the administration regarding the approach on hotel quarantine. The government would “continue to adjust anti-epidemic measures as appropriate according to the epidemic developments and analyses of scientific data,” he said.
“The government is very conscious of the need of maintaining connectivity with both the mainland and the international world, including reducing inconvenience to travelers,” the spokesman said, adding that the aim was to safeguard the well-being of citizens, particularly the elderly and children. Later Thursday, the government reiterated that it would take “precise measures to control the epidemic.”

Hong Kong has steadily eased pandemic restrictions since a surge of Covid infections and deaths in March marked a clear split from the mainland, which continues to use strict lockdowns and lengthy quarantines to try and keep cases close to zero. Still, while Hong Kong has reduced hotel quarantine to three days from 21 days, the administration has been unable to fully open up even as rival Asian hubs like Singapore remove all pandemic restrictions.
The discussion on ending quarantine is persisting despite a surge of Covid cases in Hong Kong, which one top government adviser said could peak at 20,000 per day later this month. Lee has yet to substantively tighten social-distancing measures and daily Covid deaths remain low, recording nine fatalities on Wednesday.

Hong Kong should have more political space to take action on quarantine following the Communist Party congress starting Oct. 16, during which President Xi Jinping is set to secure a third term in office. At the twice-a-decade event, Xi is poised to trumpet China’s Covid policies as superior to the rest of the world in preventing widespread death.