Carrie Lam, the outgoing chief executive of Hong Kong has publicly spoken out against the Chinese territory’s draconian pandemic border restrictions that she now admits have “undermined” Hong Kong’s status as a financial and aviation hub.
The Beijing-backed leader announced in April that she would not seek a second term after being at the helm of Hong Kong’s government for the last five years. The 65-year-old veteran politician also announced her intention to retire from politics for family reasons.
In recent days, Lam has become increasingly more outspoken about Hong Kong’s approach to the pandemic and its relationship with the Chinese mainland. “The border control measures have really made people very impatient,” Lam told CNBC on Friday.
“Of course, they’ve undermined Hong Kong’s status as a hub. If you cannot travel freely to other places and into the mainland, how could you be a hub?” she said.
Hong Kong has maintained some of the strictest pandemic restrictions in the world, although the territory has learned to partially live with the virus after the Omicron variant breached Hong Kong’s border defences in February and sent case numbers rocketing.
Although the number of daily infections has since stabilised and improving vaccination rates mean the majority of cases are mild, Hong Kong’s unwillingness to stamp out COVID-19 puts it at odds with the mainland where President Xi Jinping maintains a ‘Zero COVID’ policy that can send a city of millions of people into lockdown for a few cases.
For most of the pandemic, Lam prioritised opening Hong Kong’s border with the mainland but Beijing frequently changed the goal posts and restriction-free travel never materialised.
The different trajectory that Hong Kong has taken in living with the virus now means there is little hope of the border reopening with the mainland anytime soon. The territory now finds itself stuck in the middle, unwilling to fully live with the virus but also unwilling to pursue Zero COVID.
Passengers arriving in Hong Kong from abroad must still quarantine in a hotel for seven days but Lam believes a move to home isolation would see lots of people return to the territory.
Over the last year, the city’s financial hub status has been severely damaged as international companies and talent abandons Hong Kong for other cities that have reopened and learned to live with the virus.
When Lam stands down on June 30, she will hand over control to John Lee who is another Beijing-backed appointment. Lee is a career police officer who orchestrated a pro-democracy crackdown as Hong Kong’s security chief.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.