Hong Kong prioritized opening to China over the rest of the world. Now it's stuck in Covid limbo

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香港 Almost two years into the Covid-19 pandemic, some of the world’s major business hubsincluding New York, London and Parisare reopening as travel restrictions relax and daily life resumes.

But one city, arguably Asia’s biggest financial center, is absent from the list: 香港.
Hong Kong closed its borders in early 2020 at the start of the pandemic, and hasn’t opened them since. Barring a few exceptions, the semi-autonomous Chinese territory remains largely closed to non-residents and foreign visitors, and has some of the harshest quarantine rules 在世界上.
    The long closure has impacted businesses and frustrated residents. 然而, the government has stood firmrepeatedly emphasizing that its priority is reopening its border with mainland China, not with the rest of the world.
      We have made it very clear that our focus will be opening the border with the mainland. Hong Kong people need to go to the mainland,” said the city’s leader, Carrie Lam, at a news conference on Tuesday. “当然, international travel is important, international business is important to usbut by comparison, the mainland is more important.
        Lam’s comments illustrate just how closely Hong Kong’s government has tied its Covid strategy with Chinanot surprising for a Chinese territory, but a further sign of Hong Kong’s deteriorating reputation as an international hub.
        Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam at the Legislative Council on October 6.

        China has maintained a strict zero-Covid approach, even as many other countries transition to living with the coronavirus. Hong Kong’s decision to follow suit means the diverse metropolis, once known for attracting international business and globetrotting expats, is instead retreating further into isolation.
          There are a few reasons why Hong Kong has made this decision, said Nicholas Thomas, an associate professor at the Department of Asian and International Studies at the City University of Hong Kong. Though about 63% 人口 has been fully vaccinated, many received the Chinese Sinovac vaccine, which has had its efficacy against the highly infectious Delta variant 质疑.
          The government has also struggled to increase vaccine uptake among older people, meaninga huge proportion of our population will be exposed to the problems associated with Delta the moment we open up internationally,” 托马斯说.
          There’s the economic argument as well. At the news conference on Tuesday, Lam argued that many Hong Kong-based companies do business in the mainland, which made the border reopening critical to the economy.
          Arguably, opening to China will bring in far more economic value,” said Bernard Chan, convenor of the government advisory Executive Council. Before the pandemic, 关于 300,000 people were crossing the border every daynow it’sa tiny figure,” meaning significantly less business for the retail and hospitality sectors.
          But there are also political considerations. In the politically tumultuous two years following the 2019 Hong Kong protests, China has extended more and more of its reach into the cityand in return, Lam’s administration has stepped up its rhetoric emphasizing integration with the mainland.
          The city government doesn’t wantto be seen as pursuing an opposing policy as the rest of China,” 托马斯说. “China is basically going to pursue the zero-tolerance strategy for the foreseeable future, which means Hong Kong can either go in opposition (and open internationally) or align with China.
          But this approach has sowed growing discontent among the public, particularly foreign nationals, who make up 几乎 10% 城市的 7.5 百万人口.
          For a lot of people, this is starting to go on two years missing grandparents, births, 死亡人数, birthdays, anniversaries, 等等,” one senior banker in Hong Kong told 路透社.
          The American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong 告诉CNN in September thatan unprecedented numberof expatriates have either left or are planning to leave. Headhunters are struggling to attract new talent to Hong Kong, with people looking instead to places with more relaxed rules.
          Travelers at Shenzhen Bay Immigration Control Point in Hong Kong on September 15.

          In the face of intense criticism, the government has repeatedly defended its course of action. 星期二, Lam pointed to economic expansion in the first quarter to argue the city had not suffered badly from the tight restrictions.
          和, Chan claimed, the majority of Hong Kongers are happy with things as they are.
          It’s just numbers,” 他说. The people who want to open up international travelexpats, people with families abroad — “不幸, that’s a minority. Their priorities are different from those who are locally based.
          The broader general public isso used to zero cases, they’re happy,” 他加了. “They’re willing to give up leisure travel for public health.
          But pandemic fatigue has long set in, and there’s no telling when the government’s bet on China will pay off. 星期日, a member of the Executive Council told local media the city might not be able to open its China border until February. Chan refuted that estimate, but didn’t provide much hope for an earlier opening either. “It’s a moving target,” 他说. “There’s no plan of a specific date or anything at all.
          上个月, the border cracked open somewhatbut only one way, allowing some Chinese residents to enter Hong Kong without quarantine, not vice versa.
          The city is now effectively stuck in limbo, backed into a corner by its own policies with no easy path out. If Hong Kong reopens to international travel, it almost certainly will see a spike in infectionsand lose all chance of reopening with China.
            But if it continues on its current path, there’s no telling when China will feel confident enough to reopen the border, or what criteria Hong Kong needs to meetleaving the city at the whim of the central government, simply waiting to be allowed in. And it means clinging onto the zero-Covid strategy, “which is looking increasingly untenable in a world where Covid has become basically endemic,” 托马斯说.
            Hong Kong doesn’t have any real power to decide upon,” 他加了. “Neither option is ideal.

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