Hong Kong Resists New Virus Curbs Despite Talk of Xi Visit

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(Bloomberg) -- Hong Kong won’t tighten Covid curbs before the city’s July 1 handover anniversary, Chief Executive Carrie Lam said, despite speculation President Xi Jinping will attend the celebrations.

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“I can say with certainty that arrival requirements and social distancing measures will be maintained until June 30,” Lam told a regular news briefing Tuesday, referencing her final day in office. “In other words, there is no immediate need to tighten restrictions but there won’t be any relaxation,” she added.

Hong Kong’s Covid cases have been rising since the city began rolling back social-distancing curbs, clocking 489 new infections Tuesday. That’s set the city’s pandemic policy on a starkly different path to Xi’s stringent zero-tolerance strategy that puts mainland cities into lockdown over a handful of infections.

Lam said that while she was meeting pandemic advisers Tuesday to prepare for a potential “sixth wave,” she didn’t want to close schools again citing the “huge impact” on children.

“We have been in an epidemic situation for over two years,” Lam said. “I believe that most Hong Kong people would agree they need to see a path to recovery.” She added that decisions should be made not only on the basis of public health and economic development but also “acceptability by the public.”

Hong Kong’s drift from the mainland’s Covid policy has cast doubt over whether Xi will attend celebrations marking 25 years of Chinese rule next month -- a trip that would the Chinese leader’s first outside the mainland since traveling to Myanmar in January 2020 at the outset of the pandemic.

Still, earlier Tuesday, the South China Morning Post reported that Lam and other top Hong Kong officials -- including her incoming replacement, John Lee -- were preparing to isolate ahead of a “possible” visit from a Chinese state leader on July 1, citing unidentified sources. It did not specify which leader might visit.

The week-long, closed-loop system, which was still being finalized, would prevent officials from meeting “outsiders” and require them to live apart from their families, according to the newspaper, which said officials had been informed a month ago.

Lam said Tuesday that the city was “looking forward” to a visit from the country’s leader, but cautioned that the conditions would need to be favorable. “I cannot tell you more,” she added.

Kenneth Chan, associate professor specializing in politics at Hong Kong Baptist University, said that while managing a closed-loop system for a few thousand attendees would be unprecedented in the city, it would also be a “privilege” for local officials.

“The odds are still in favor of Xi’s visit because he would be watched internationally, giving him a global presence and additional mileage to assert his supremacy above others preceding the 20th Congress,” he said, referencing the Communist Party summit later this year where Xi is expected to win a landmark third term in power.

(Updates with virus figures in third paragraph.)

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