Asia’s largest financial lobby group, whose members include Goldman Sachs and BlackRock, has warned the Hong Kong government that the territory’s status as an international financial centre is at risk because of “highly restrictive” coronavirus policies that stifle foreign travel.
The Asia Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association letter to Paul Chan, Hong Kong’s financial secretary, was an unusual step by the group, which represents 155 of the largest banks, asset managers and professional services firms in the region. It is the first time the group has confronted the government on its policies.
Asifma’s letter called on officials to produce a timeline for relaxing travel restrictions amid growing unease in the city’s business community as the rest of the region reopens. Last week, Singapore opened up quarantine-free travel arrangements with 10 countries after 21 months of closed borders. Australia, New Zealand and Thailand have also laid out plans for reopening borders in recent weeks.
But visitors to Hong Kong from 25 countries, including the UK and US, must still quarantine in a hotel at their own expense for three weeks, while travellers from elsewhere are subject to a two-week hotel quarantine. The policy, which has been in place since 2020, is expected to last into 2022. Authorities have failed to offer any timeline for relaxing the rules.
Asifma said there was a growing sentiment among Hong Kong’s international financial services community that “talent, people and business operations” were leaving the city.
It said a survey of its members revealed that 48 per cent of companies were contemplating moving staff or functions away from Hong Kong owing to uncertainty over when and how quarantine restrictions would be lifted. Almost three-quarters of firms were struggling to attract and retain talent in Hong Kong, it added.
“We fear that if Hong Kong does not develop and communicate a clear and meaningful exit strategy from the current zero-case approach, as is the case in many other jurisdictions, Hong Kong risks losing its vital international status,” the letter said.
“The government must do its utmost to foster informed dialogue and full consideration of the long-term risks to livelihoods if its borders remain effectively closed, in contrast to competing international financial and business centres.”
The Hong Kong government did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
This month, Carrie Lam, the Hong Kong chief executive, spelt out for the first time that travel in and out of China was the city’s priority. That stance has stoked concerns of a long delay to easing quarantine rules for international travel owing to Beijing’s strict zero-Covid strategy.
One Chinese official told the Financial Times that the border with the mainland could remain closed until after the Communist party congress in November 2022.
Asifma laid out a plan for Hong Kong to abandon its own zero-Covid strategy “beyond solely the immediate goal of opening borders with China”. It included Hong Kong deciding on criteria for reopening once certain vaccination levels were met and “acceptance that living with Covid will eventually be required enabling businesses, families and the community in Hong Kong to more effectively plan for the future”.
Hong Kong has reported just 213 deaths from Covid-19 among a population of almost 7.5m. About 65 per cent of the city’s residents have been fully vaccinated, although that included just 16 per cent of people aged over 80.
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