This file photo dated Aug 19, 2020 shows two pedestrians using umbrellas on a promenade that runs along Victoria Harbour in Hong Kong. (ANTHONY WALLACE / AFP)
HONG KONG – Hong Kong is allowing vaccinated directors and senior executives of major listed companies to travel globally more easily, in a significant relaxation of its border curbs as a fifth of the city's population took at least one shot of the COVID-19 vaccines available.
Vaccinated senior executives from about 500 companies included in indexes like the Hang Seng and Hang Seng China Enterprises can seek permission to travel in and out of the city without needing to follow the current quarantine requirement, Hong Kong’s Financial Services and the Treasury Bureau said in an emailed statement Monday.
The current norm is that everyone arriving in Hong Kong must isolate in a hotel for up to 21 days.
The executives must undergo testing and are required to stick to pre-approved itineraries on their business trips and not move freely around the city
This exemption is available to other firms from financial industries like banking, mobile payments, insurance, securities and futures intermediaries. Companies are allowed a limited quota of exemptions and the government will review applications based on criteria like where the executive is traveling from, according to the statement.
The executives must undergo testing and are required to stick to pre-approved itineraries on their business trips and not move freely around the city. An earlier version of the quarantine exemption policy has existed since last year for executives coming from the Chinese mainland.
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“It is necessary to assist these institutions to maintain effective operations during the epidemic to ensure Hong Kong’s financial stability and maintain Hong Kong’s status as an international financial center,” the bureau’s spokesperson said in the email.
The clarification of a wider policy of exemption for vaccinated executives comes in the wake of a Friday announcement that some vaccinated senior bankers can skip quarantine.
Hong Kong’s traveler quarantine requirements are some of the strictest in the world and require people to pay for hotel room stays, the supply of which is rapidly drying up during the summer months, leaving some with no option to return.
About one million residents have been fully vaccinated in Hong Kong since Feb 26.
As of Sunday, nearly 1.36 million people have taken at least one shot of the COVID-19 vaccine, accounting for 20.7 percent of the eligible groups in Hong Kong, according to government.
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People aged 16 or above are currently eligible for vaccine doses in the financial hub, where some 2.36 million jabs have been administered in total.
Banks in the city welcomed the plan.
“We welcome the new measure providing more convenience to vaccinated senior executives when traveling to Hong Kong. This helps encourage resumption of necessary business travel and brings business activities gradually back to normal, which is particularly important to Hong Kong as an international financial center,” said a Standard Chartered Plc spokeswoman in an emailed statement.
The bank will look at how the policy would facilitate senior executives based elsewhere to meet clients and colleagues locally, she said, adding that Hong Kong is the bank’s largest market.
As the length of hotel isolation for those traveling from some countries, including the US, has dropped to two weeks for vaccinated people, demand for rooms has skyrocketed. Numerous accommodations, especially those at lower price points, are fully booked through the end of the current quarantine period, which runs until June 19.
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The Food and Health Bureau said Monday in an emailed statement that the supply of rooms would be increased from the current 8,300 to 10,000 due to more demand. Some hotels will open up more rooms for booking, it said.