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As Singapore moves to reopen, Hong Kong remains mired in restrictions

People line up to be tested for the Covid-19 nucleic acid on April 28, 2022 in Hong Kong. While Singapore has gradually reopened in recent months, Hong Kong remains engulfed in restrictions that critics say are denting business and talent, with Singapore the beneficiary. main.

Chen Yongnuo | China News Service | beautiful pictures

When Daniel Chow left Singapore in 2020 for a job in Hong KongI hope that his wife and two young sons will join him as soon as the pandemic subsides and the Chinese territory move away from the “zero-Covid” strategy.

Chow is now back in Singapore after two disappointing years, citing that life in Hong Kong continues to be limited even as the rest of the world opens up.

“We decided that my family would not move to Hong Kong,” said Chow, 43, who works in investment services. “Schools are constantly closed and the city has tight restrictions on movement. Children are the ones who suffer the most.”

For most of the pandemic, Hong Kong and Singapore – both densely populated Asian financial hubs with residents from around the world – have kept virus cases and deaths to a minimum with border closures, strict quarantine requirements, and widespread testing and contact tracing.

But while Singapore has gradually reopened in recent months, Hong Kong remains engulfed in restrictions that critics say are denting business and talent. main beneficiaries.

Singapore was one of the first countries in Asia to open its borders to the world. Travel has increased in recent weeks as the city has removed mandatory quarantines, pre-departure checks for vaccinated people and required face coverings outdoors. This city of more than 5 million people is reporting an average of about 6,000 cases per day.

Hong Kong has also moved to ease restrictions, reopening its borders to non-residents, resuming in-person classes and allowing bars and other businesses to reopen for the first time since. from January.

But passengers arriving from abroad are still required to be quarantined in a hotel for seven days at their own expense – a burden for frequent travelers like Chow, who has returned to Singapore to see family.

“It became a really big factor that made me leave Hong Kong and a bigger factor than what got me there in the first place, it was a lot of opportunities in my career,” he said. speak.

Hong Kong has maintained its strict policies with the aim of reopening its borders with mainland China, which has take a similar “zero-Covid” approach. But with the mainland still recovering from its worst outbreak since the pandemic began, that seems unlikely anytime soon, while also helping Hong Kong reopen to the rest. of the world.

Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s chief executive, said last month that hotel quarantine and check-in requirements were “very difficult” to be relaxed before she stepped down at the end of June, citing risks related to health and safety issues. new variant. The city of 7.4 million is reporting between 200 and 300 coronavirus infections a day.

Lam’s successor, John Lee, said reopening mainland China and the rest of the world is one of his priorities. But the city’s business community is growing increasingly impatient, with lobbying groups urging officials to lift the quarantine requirement or at least allow travelers to be quarantined at home.

Betty Yuen, the new president of the Hong Kong Chamber of Commerce, told local broadcaster TVB last month: “Being able to resume tourism is of paramount importance, whether it’s to the mainland or to overseas.” . “Our strict restrictions have made us almost like an isolated island.”

Travel restrictions have also affected flight schedules in and out of Hong Kong, once home to one of the world’s busiest airports. Only 126,000 passengers passed through Hong Kong International Airport in April, compared with 6.5 million in April 2019.

Willie Walsh, general manager of the International Air Transport Association, told reporters in Singapore last month that Hong Kong will take years to recover as a global aviation hub.

“That opportunity will come to other airports in the region,” he said. “I think clearly Singapore will benefit from that.”

Singapore’s pandemic restrictions have also weighed on its population, with some foreign residents citing them as one of the reasons for them to leave. However, the government has emphasized the importance of reopening the economy during the pandemic, said Teo Yik Ying, professor and dean of the National University of Singapore School of Public Health.

“For comparison, I think it’s not easy for the Hong Kong government to decide unilaterally, as their pandemic policy is tied to mainland China,” he said.

The Singapore government has also been praised for communicating with the public during the pandemic, which Ying says has built trust.

That level of credibility is lacking in Hong Kong, where anti-government protests in 2019 were followed by a dramatic crackdown on dissidents. During the pandemic, the government has been criticized for its inconsistent messaging and response measures.

Discussions about leaving Hong Kong went viral this spring as the city experienced its worst pandemic outbreak yet. Rumors of a full-blown shutdown, and especially concerns about children being separated from their parents by isolation policies, have prompted thousands to leave, at least temporarily.

Singapore is a natural alternative, especially for those in the financial services business. But there are also obstacles to moving there, prompting some Hong Kong businesses and families to rethink their plans.

The city recently tightened work visa requirements for foreign nationals over fears they would lose Singaporean jobs.

Walter Theseira, an associate professor of economics at the Singapore University of Social Sciences business school, said: “People here are always welcoming expats and foreign businesses to Singapore, but it’s important that they do it. added value to the local economy and to local people.

Property prices were up in Singapore even before the wave from Hong Kong, which also fueled a surge in demand for private schools.

“That’s going to be a concern for families trying to move here, because I’ve heard that people can’t get a place in schools,” Theseira said.

Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said the city welcomes existing competition from Hong Kong, which he says creates “a vibrant, dynamic region.”

“We are happy to welcome them, but actually we would be more pleased if they were happy to stay in Hong Kong,” he told the editorial board of The Wall Street Journal in April.

Ying hopes that Hong Kong will soon open up to the rest of the world.

“Hong Kong is not only important to itself or to China, but also strategically important as an economic and transportation hub for this part of the world,” he said. “When the Hong Kong economy suffers, the whole region suffers too. So it is in everyone’s interest that Hong Kong can restore its status as an economic hub in Asia.”

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