Hong Kong’s strict coronavirus containment measures are causing growing anxiety in the city’s financial sector, after an outbreak forced several companies to offices were closed and some employees and their children trapped in spartan government quarantine facilities.
An executive at an international investment bank in the city said the company would have to consider moving some of its traders to other financial centers if Hong Kong’s current quarantine policies remain in place in the long term. Managers at another global finance company worry they’ll have a hard time retaining and attracting foreign talent if Hong Kong’s rules persist as other cities begin to ease restrictions as vaccine launches accelerate.
A draft letter calling on the Hong Kong government to follow international best practices and present a clear roadmap for Covid policies has been circulating among industry groups representing corporate and financial interests, although it is unclear. which of them will sign, people familiar with the matter. saying. Authorities will convene a meeting on Friday with international chambers of commerce and other business groups to provide an update on Covid, another person said. Like others in this story, they spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private and politically sensitive matters.
“For the US business community, the quarantine has been a great frustration, and hope procedures will be changed when the government feel it’s safe, ”said Tara Joseph, president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong, in an emailed response to questions from Bloomberg.
What is at stake are the quarantine rules that are among the strictest in the world. Close contacts of positive cases in Hong Kong, including young children, must spend up to two weeks in centralized surveillance facilities, even if they test negative. While one of the quarantine centers is housed in a Dorsett-branded hotel, other specially designed facilities feature tiny rooms with basic furnishings. Some lack Wi-Fi connections that can support remote work.
The city’s quarantine policy has been in place since last year, but is only now being scrutinized by the banking community after an outbreak involving a local gym spread among financial workers and school employees caring for children of wealthy expats. The episode comes at a time of great uncertainty about Hong Kong’s status as a top-tier financial center, following a nearly year-long crackdown by the Chinese government on freedoms in the former British colony.
The executive of an international investment bank said his firm is particularly concerned about the possibility of losing access to critical business employees, or even entire teams, if they or their family members come into contact with people who test positive. Several global banks have asked a higher proportion of their Hong Kong merchants to work from home to reduce the risk of being sent into government quarantine.
In Singapore, close contacts go to centralized facilities only if their homes are deemed unsuitable for isolation. In Japan, the government advises negative close contacts to stay home for 14 days.
Hong Kong’s rules for inbound travelers are also stricter than other financial centers. Residents entering the city from outside of China are required to spend 21 days in isolation at designated hotels. Shanghai’s quarantine is only 14 days, while residents returning to Singapore from the countries can quarantine at home, subject to monitoring.
Difficulties surrounding travel contributed to James Paradise’s decision to retiring as Hong Kong-based Asia Pacific Non-Japan Co-Chair of Goldman Sachs Group Inc. late last year.
The strict testing and cleaning requirements in Hong Kong have left financial companies exposed to sudden changes in their ability to access city offices. HSBC Holdings Plc this week closed its iconic building in central Hong Kong until further notice. Employees who were in the office for more than two hours between March 3 and March 16 are subject to mandatory testing.
Hong Kong’s strict approach has possibly helped the city contain its total Covid cases at around 11,000, well below levels in other major shopping centers, including Singapore. Unlike New York City and London, Hong Kong has avoided city-wide lockdowns during the pandemic.
Still, some critics in the financial community have called Hong Kong’s quarantine rules too burdensome and at times inconsistent. Others have said the government needs to improve communication of its policies, including how it determines close contacts, and find better ways to accommodate children and others with special needs. A frequently repeated request from bankers is that there must be a clear plan for how quarantine policies will evolve as more residents get vaccinated.
“What we are really asking for are guidelines on the criteria used for quarantine and transparency in decision making,” Joseph said. “Without that, it is very difficult to participate in safe business planning. Hong Kong is a city based on connectivity and transparency is a crucial aspect of what makes this city work. “
Requests for comment to the Hong Kong Chief Secretary for Administration’s office after normal business hours were not immediately responded to.
Executive Director Carrie Lam said this week that the government would explore whether there was room to relax social distancing measures related to the virus for vaccinated people. Hong Kong has expanded access to vaccines for residents Aged 30 years or older, which means that approximately 70% of the city’s population of 7.5 million is now eligible. Reservations for the shots soared Tuesday, the first day of extended access.
Hong Kong has also held preliminary talks with China to ease some travel restrictions for people who received two doses of the vaccine. Meanwhile, Lam has downplayed concerns about the possible separation of the children from their parents. In most cases, health officials allow minors sent to quarantine to be accompanied by their parents or another caregiver.
It’s unclear whether the quarantine angst will have a lasting impact on Hong Kong’s role as a financial center as more of the city’s population gets vaccinated. Even as this month’s outbreak shook bankers, the city has continued to enjoy a healthy portfolio of initial public offerings and a resilient stock market. Hong Kong listings have raised nearly $ 14 billion in 2021, up 655% from the previous year.
A senior banker from a European financial firm who has lived in Hong Kong for more than 15 years said she has no concrete plans to leave, despite the quarantine policy causing her to share the perspective with her husband. While her family hasn’t had to go into quarantine, some of her children’s schoolmates at Woodland Montessori Academy in the affluent area of Midlevels were ordered there this week.
Others in the industry are less sure to stay. The chief technology officer of a local fintech company said his frustrations with Hong Kong have been mounting since 2019, when pro-democracy protests closed some schools for weeks. Face-to-face classes were suspended for much of last year due to the pandemic, even as schools in Singapore mostly remained open. The CTO said that he is now seriously considering moving out of Hong Kong to avoid the possibility of his children ending up in quarantine.
– With the assistance of Rachel Chang, Vinicy Chan, Kiuyan Wong and Jinshan Hong
(Add the story link in the eighth paragraph and Singapore’s designated home quarantine countries in the ninth paragraph. An earlier version of this story corrected a caption.)