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Coronavirus

Hong Kong's zero-COVID policy hurts hub status: industry group

Nearly half of member financial companies weigh moving staff or functions

An open letter says, "Hong Kong's status as an (international financial center) is increasingly at risk along with its long-term economic recovery and competitiveness as a premier place to do business."   © Reuters

HONG KONG (Reuters) -- A financial industry group warned on Monday that Hong Kong's zero-COVID policy and strict quarantine requirements for international travelers threatens to undermine the city's status as a financial hub.

The Asia Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association (ASIFMA) said a survey of members, including some of the world's largest banks and asset managers, showed 48% were contemplating moving staff or functions away from Hong Kong due to operational challenges, which included uncertainty regarding when and how travel and quarantine restrictions will be lifted.

Hong Kong has some of the most stringent travel restrictions in the world and is virtually COVID-19 free, however unlike regional rival Singapore, which is slowly reopening its borders, the Chinese-ruled city has no public plan for opening up to international travelers.

Local leaders say their focus is removing restrictions on travel from Hong Kong to mainland China, which also has strict entry restrictions. At present travelers from Hong Kong to the mainland must still undergo quarantine.

"Hong Kong's status as an (international financial center) is increasingly at risk along with its long-term economic recovery and competitiveness as a premier place to do business," Mark Austen chief executive of Asifma wrote in open letter to Hong Kong's financial secretary Paul Chan.

The letter made a series of recommendations including publishing "a road map for exiting Hong Kong's 'zero-case' based COVID-19 strategy beyond solely the immediate goal of opening borders with China", as well as prioritizing vaccinations.

Hong Kong has reported just over 12,300 cases since the start of the pandemic, mostly imported, and 213 deaths.

Regional rival Singapore is expanding quarantine-free travel to nearly a dozen countries, but authorities are grappling with how to do so while averting a surge of COVID-19 cases among older people and those with weak immune systems.

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