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South China Morning Post

Hong Kong expands quarantine waivers for executives in more industries to keep financial hub’s business vibes abuzz

Hong Kong’s government is expanding the scope of its quarantine exemption, as the absence of new local Covid-19 cases bolstered the confidence of local authorities to keep the doors ajar on business travels, the lifeline that sustains deal making, relationships and businesses in Asia’s financial hub. Each of the four regulatory bodies responsible for the city’s financial services will be able to exempt four vaccinated, senior executives of each company from three weeks of quarantine when they visit the city, according to the spokeswoman for the Financial Services and the Treasury Bureau (FSTB). “Hong Kong has a lot of financial firms and listed companies which have the need to travel around the world to maintain their business operations,” according to the spokeswoman. “This is important to maintain the city as an international financial centre.” Do you have questions about the biggest topics and trends from around the world? Get the answers with SCMP Knowledge, our new platform of curated content with explainers, FAQs, analyses and infographics brought to you by our award-winning team. Hong Kong reported no local infections of the Covid-19 last Friday, the 28th consecutive day of zero new cases that prompted the government’s pandemic adviser Professor Yuen Kwok-yung to declare the end of the city’s so-called fourth wave of outbreaks. Hong Kong last recorded a local case with an untraceable source on April 23. The Securities and Financial Commission (SFC), which regulates stockbrokers and fund managers working in Hong Kong, on Friday outlined an exemption for up to four vaccinated, senior executives – those with global or regional roles – to travel to and return from other places to the city without having to be quarantined for 21 days each. Following the SFC’s announcement, the FTSB clarified that the city’s de facto central bank the Hong Kong Monetary Authority (HKMA), and the insurance watchdog agency the Insurance Authority can also grant similar exemptions. The Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing Limited (HKEX), which operates the bourse for more than 2,000 publicly listed companies, expanded its June 2020 quarantine exemption to the 500 largest companies on the HKEX, which are constituent stocks of key indexes, from the 480 announced last year. Together, the four regulatory bodies can potentially exempt up to thousands of executives to travel to Hong Kong per month, subject to the completion of approved vaccination, and a litany of travel restrictions and disclosure requirements including detailed itineraries and consent to avoid public venues. However, the number of travellers would be limited to four per company, each specific to the regulated line of business, such as insurance or commercial banking. Senior executives who want to enter Hong Kong from high-risk locales including Taiwan, the United States and the United Kingdom will still need to be quarantined, but for shorter periods of time than the requisite 21 days at hotels for all other visitors. The exemption allowed them to attend business meeting during the self-quarantine period. In each case, travel would be limited to a single trip each month by two returning Hong Kong-based executives and two visiting executives, the spokeswoman said. Previously only two executives or directors were allowed to travel from the mainland each month. The pool of companies who could apply for executives to travel, include Chinese tech giants Tencent Holdings, the insurer AIA, HSBC , Standard Chartered and other banks, as well as this newspaper’s owner Alibaba Group Holding. Four out of 10 respondents to a poll by the American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) in Hong Kong in May said they were considering quitting the city, citing Beijing’s passage of a controversial national security law for Hong Kong last year and the strict quarantine rules for overseas travel. Senior executives of about 500 listed companies, as well as bankers, insurance executives and asset managers, can apply to travel to Hong Kong with limited or no quarantine. Photo: Winson Wong alt=Senior executives of about 500 listed companies, as well as bankers, insurance executives and asset managers, can apply to travel to Hong Kong with limited or no quarantine. Photo: Winson Wong The strict quarantine policy is one reason banks had been hesitant to expand the reopening of their buildings in the city. Many lenders remain at about 50 per cent capacity in terms of in-office staffing and have a rotational system where teams are split between the home and office every week to two weeks to avoid a single infection sidelining critical functions. “In principle, we welcome more interflow of people for business subject to public health preconditions, like vaccinations or negative test results. On the other hand, we support opening up be at a gradual and measured pace to prevent the import of cases,” said Mike Wong Ming-wai, CEO of the Chamber of Hong Kong Listed Companies. Hong Kong has stuck with strict quarantine procedures as it has faced difficulty in convincing the population to widely agree to be vaccinated, causing it to lag behind other financial centres. The city is considering postponing some deliveries of batches from BioNTech and Sinovac and potentially donating surplus vaccine supplies before they expire later this summer because of the lacklustre response by the general public. About 21 per cent of the city’s 7.5 million population have received at least one jab, lagging behind the 50 per cent in the US and 58 per cent of the UK’s population. About 36 per cent of Singapore’s population has received at least one jab, according to the city state’s Ministry of Health. To try to boost uptake in the city, property tycoons from the Sino Group’s philanthropic arm Ng Teng Fong Charitable Foundation and Chinese Estates Holdings said on Friday that they would sponsor a lucky draw for a flat worth HK$10.8 million (US$1.4 million) for people who had received both jabs. This article originally appeared in the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the most authoritative voice reporting on China and Asia for more than a century. 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