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Omicron to challenge Hong Kong’s zero Covid policy (ex-US diplomat)

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Omicron to challenge Hong Kong’s zero Covid policy (ex-US diplomat)

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The highly transmissible variant of the omicron is going to be a “very difficult challenge” for Hong Kong as the city sticks to its zero-Covid policy, a former U.S. diplomat told CNBC.

There will likely be more opposition to “draconian measures” given that the variant appears to be less dangerous, said Kurt Tong, who was previously the US consul general and head of mission in Hong Kong and Macau from August 2016. to July 2019.

Stricter restrictions – including the closure of bars, cinemas and fitness centers – went into effect Friday last week and are expected to last until January 20.

“We are facing a very serious situation of a major community epidemic at any time, and that is why we must take very decisive action,” said Chief Executive Officer Carrie Lam upon the announcement of the new rules.

It will be very difficult to reach zero Covid given the transmissibility of the omicron variant, and “there will be more political pressure not to institute draconian measures against a relatively low risk for most of the vaccinated population”, a said Tong, who is now a partner of business consultancy The Asia Group.

Hong Kong Managing Director Carrie Lam speaks to media about the immunization service ahead of a meeting on January 11, 2022 in Hong Kong.

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About 70% of the population of Hong Kong has received two doses of a Covid vaccine, according to government data. However, a “significant proportion” of the elderly are not vaccinated, Tong told CNBC’s “Squawk Box Asia” Thursday.

The government is “fully committed” to zero Covid, and “really cannot back down from this approach, regardless of the economic impact, without some instructions from Beijing to do so – which I don’t see coming”, a- he added.

Unhappy but resigned

Asked about the public and business sentiment towards the zero Covid strategy, Tong said that “unhappiness is the main feeling, but also a feeling of resignation.”

People understand that Hong Kong wants to reopen the border with mainland China and has to follow the same zero Covid policy to achieve this, Tong said.

“This is how it’s going to be,” he said.

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Tong added that he does not expect the border with China to open in the first half of this year.

“The omicron challenge is just really big, and so everyone’s going to be pretty conservative in their decision-making,” he said.

Allan Zeman, chairman of real estate developer Lan Kwai Fong Group, previously defended strict Hong Kong rules.

“I think in general we’re safe and it’s different from the horror stories I’m watching in Europe and the US right now,” he said in December. Zeman was a candidate in the legislative elections last year, but failed to win a seat.

Hong Kong has reported 12,821 confirmed cases of Covid and 213 deaths since the start of the pandemic.

Omicron to challenge Hong Kong’s zero Covid policy (ex-US diplomat)

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