The Chief Executive has said it’s her “top priority” to resume the normal cross-boundary flow of people with the Chinese Mainland. Long concerned with the reopening of the border, Bernard Charnwut Chan, Convenor of Non-official Members of the Executive Council, said all countries would one day have to open their borders to maintain their economies and travel industries, but Hong Kong is facing a dilemma.
Can't please everyone
Pandemic strategies get a little complicated for Hong Kong, Chan wrote in an article earlier. On one hand, its economy highly depends on the Mainland’s flow of goods and people, but China’s zero-tolerance approach means it’s not easily convinced to loosening border restrictions. On the other, being an international financial hub and open economy requires easy border access for business travellers, inevitably inviting imported COVID-19 cases.
In a Bloomberg interview, Chan highlighted that Hong Kong’s “hands are tied” as it’s stuck between the contradiction arising from China’s COVID-zero policy and the “live with the virus” approach of the West.
Being unable to welcome travellers has also left Hong Kong’s financial trade into a conundrum. Chan said in the interview that as a financial hub, as having the ease of getting in the out. “So we went from one of the easiest places to on in and out of, to now one of the most difficult places to get in and out.” He described Hong Kong as a victim of its own success.
In terms of trade, the Chinese Mainland is Hong Kong’s largest goods supplier, making up 52% of all external trade. With cross border commute stagnated thanks to the coronavirus, many workers were made redundant.
Chan has learned from the business circle that enterprises are compelled to relocate high management offices from Hong Kong to the Mainland because of the limited ability to cross the boundary. He said this would be a dangerous trend for Hong Kong.
What needs done for reopening?
In his article and his interview, Chan has separately given two recommendations to lay the foundations for an eventual reopening. The first is to be vaccinated to build herd immunity which he believed is the wise way to return to the pre-COVID normal.
Second, he called for a change in the mindset that it only takes strict border control to prevent the coronavirus. He said the majority of Hong Kongers only travel for leisure and to them, safety and public health prevail the travel readiness. If this idea isn’t changed, he said, no one dares to set out a change in the virus policy.
Each of these suggestions faces challenges. That against the inoculation progress has to do with Merck’s advance in its research in an oral remedy for COVID-19. Many regions, Hong Kong included, have expressed interest in buying, while Singapore has signed a procurement agreement with the pharma. Much as it’s good news to have pills to combat the coronavirus, the unvaccinated could put their jabs on hold as they’re convinced there’s already a remedy, which could further dent the vaccination rates.
Relaxing inbound conditions may not meet Mainland’s demands for resuming quarantine-tree travel. According to David Hui Shu-cheong, the COVID expert responsible for China Hong Kong collaboration, the city needs specific improvements in order to be considered lifting border control. High-risk groups such as health care workers and airport staff need to be tested more frequently, to once every two days; the diagnosed has to be placed under extended medical surveillance; tightening quarantine exemptions of air cabin crew and diplomats, in addition to a higher rate of vaccination and launching of the traceable health code app.
The Chief Executive has asserted all these measures are to be pursued, meaning local pandemic policies are unlikely to be unwound.
To get more of Bernard Chan’s insight on Hong Kong’s post-COVID economy and boundary reopening measures, tune in to Yahoo All Markets Summit from 9 am October 26, broadcast live at Yahoo Finance.