Hong Kong’s covid-19 regime sparks scramble for frightened residents
He has drawn up plans to leave the city he immigrated to as a teenager, considering moving with his wife and two young children to Singapore, a perennial rival to Hong Kong that continues to open its borders even as the number of Covid-19 is increasing there. records.
“The virus is something you have to live with, but that doesn’t seem to be the thought process here,” Mr Murton said.
For two years, Hong Kong has largely excluded Covid-19 by sometimes banning travelers from certain high-risk countries, using long quarantines for arrivals and social distancing, and isolating infected people and their close contacts – at the cost to effectively cut off the residents of the global financial center from the outside world. Now, after the Omicron variant breached the city’s defenses, overwhelmed hospitals and testing facilities, the city is tightening the screws in new and unpredictable ways to adhere to Beijing’s zero-Covid policy of eradicating the virus every time it appears.
For residents frustrated by the lack of a clear path out of Hong Kong’s restrictions, the latest crackdown clashes with the image in the United States, Europe and other parts of the world, where governments are dismantling measures control of the most intrusive pandemic and seek a return to a more normal life, aided by high vaccination rates.
Hong Kong’s heavy-handed response risks turning what has been a stream of residents leaving the city into a flood. Immigration data shows nearly 69,000 more Hong Kong residents have left the city than arrived this year, with nearly 80% of those leaving in February, marking the biggest monthly flight since January 2020, when the data began. It is not known how many have left for good. The latest available government figures show the city’s population has shrunk by more than 75,000 in mid-2021 from the previous year.
The rush to get out is visible in hastily canceled medical appointments, children taking online lessons during the airport shuttle and the rush to find tenants to take over apartment leases. Ticket prices have soared for the few flights out of the city, with some travel agents saying customers are more willing to consider any plane that takes them out of Hong Kong before the new measures are implemented.
The city’s residents face an arsenal for fighting the pandemic with few equivalents in the West. Most non-residents are barred from entry, and returning travelers must pay for week-long hotel quarantines, regardless of their test results or vaccination status. As other economies drop restrictions, Hong Kong has banned gatherings of more than two people and indoor dining after 6 p.m., and closed gyms, bars, hair salons and even campsites. Since last Thursday, the non-vaccinated can no longer shop in supermarkets and shopping centers.
Despite these measures, the city has recorded more than 126,000 cases from Dec. 31 through Saturday, about 10 times the number of infections seen in 2020 and 2021 combined.
Under pressure from Beijing to end the outbreak, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam announced plans to test everyone in the city three times in March, adopting a tactic that has proven effective on the mainland to identify every carrier of the virus in a given area and place in solitary confinement or hospital.
The government has said it needs school campuses to process the million tests a day needed to meet that target. Still, the unexpected decision brings summer vacation forward, destroying families’ travel plans and creating uncertainty over college entrance exams for final-year students.
City authorities will also commandeer empty hotels and apartment buildings and build isolation centers to house the tens of thousands of people who are expected to test positive in the mass testing campaign.
In a stark warning of what this could mean for families, an 11-month-old baby who tested positive has been separated from his parents at one of the city’s public hospitals. The health authority said it was not possible for the parents to stay with their daughter as both had tested negative. As the infant is now reunited with his parents, the incident has rattled many parents who fear a similar outcome from mass screening.
Doris Chiu, who runs a travel agency, said the risks of being forced into solitary confinement prompted her to speed up plans to move with her 4-year-old daughter to Washington, DC
“I want to avoid mandatory citywide testing,” she said.
The Hong Kong native said she had lost faith in the government’s ability to handle the pandemic. “It’s going to be a mess,” she said. “It’s going to kill the economy more because they’ve got about [brought] all at a standstill.”
Businesses have long complained about the government’s handling of the pandemic, saying travel and other restrictions have made it difficult to recruit and retain employees. Industry experts say the latest pandemic policy change is likely to make matters worse, accelerating a trend that has seen the number of regional headquarters of multinationals in Hong Kong fall by 5% since 2018, a figure reduced by the arrival of more mainland Chinese enterprises.
Yossi Shabat, 62, is considering a move to Manila after more than three decades in Hong Kong, prompted by the Philippines dropping its quarantine requirement earlier this year. “I cannot manage my company’s business here in Southeast Asia from home using MS Teams or Zoom. The relationship with the customer is impacted,” said Mr. Shabat, who works for an Israeli IT company. -American.
“Hong Kong was known to be a great hub,” he said. “You could fly from here to anywhere freely. For the past two years, that doesn’t happen anymore. Either Singapore or Manila or Bangkok.”
Certainly, the demise of Hong Kong as a global financial and trading hub has been predicted many times before.
Joe Chu, director of Hong Kong movers, Vanpac GroupAsia, said while expat relocation requests to Hong Kong are at around double the usual level, he has repeatedly seen large outflows of Hong Kongers and foreign residents, especially during SARS. epidemic in 2003 and before the handover in 1997 of the former British colony to China. He also saw people coming back.
“On past experience, people leave and after a few years they come back,” he said.
Like many of those the Wall Street Journal spoke to, including Mr Shabat and Mr Murton, Kevin Shee said his decision to leave Hong Kong could change if the government relaxed its policies.
Mr Shee, who runs a storage business, said he would take his family to Singapore and Bali in March and make a final decision on whether to ditch Hong Kong later.
“If the situation does not improve by next year and the quarantine rules are still rigid, I will not return to Hong Kong again and will live in Singapore,” he said.
This story was published from a news agency feed with no text edits
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