Hong Kong has taken one step further toward its full reopening by reducing the number of COVID-19 PCR tests for international arrivals from four to two as of Nov 21. The amendment requires travelers to conduct the PCR test only at the airport and on the second day, but the daily rapid antigen test (RAT) requirement remains the same.
In other words, the concept of “0+3” (that is, a three-day monitoring period) plus doing several PCR tests remains in place, but the PCR tests will be necessary only on days zero and two after arrival, suppressing the need for the PCR test on days four and six. The RAT test every day for seven days after arrival, though, remains in place.
Undersecretary for Health Libby Lee Ha-yun made the announcement at a COVID-19 policy news conference on Nov 17. She said statistics showed that between Sept 26 and Nov 6, 82 percent of infected arrivals were detected through the first two PCR tests, and only 0.4 and 0.1 percent of infections were found in later tests. Therefore, the need for the fourth- and sixth-day tests was rather low, given that that the incubation period for the omicron variant is relatively short,
That being said, the situation is not perfect yet. The current “0+3” program, even with two fewer PCR tests required, will still discourage many others from visiting Hong Kong, thus causing Hong Kong to lose potential tourists and talent, in a time when all the other financial centers are willing to take advantage of Hong Kong’s situation
These measures need indeed to be applauded, since they are one more step toward the much-needed full reopening of Hong Kong to the world.
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The easement of these measures plus all the high-profile events recently celebrated in Hong Kong show that the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, as reported by many local media, is “roaring back”. In this sense, the city recently celebrated its FinTech Week, which was the first major in-person event celebrated in the special administrative region since travel restrictions were eased in late September, and was held alongside the Global Financial Leaders’ Investment Summit on Nov 1-3, and the Hong Kong Sevens rugby tournament on Nov 4-6. Hong Kong may not have fully reopened yet to the world, but these events show that more visitors are willing to fly to Hong Kong, which is indeed great news. Just as an example, Hong Kong FinTech Week attracted 20,000 attendees and 3 million online viewers.
Moreover, the celebration of this kind of events will undoubtedly allow Hong Kong to maintain and even strengthen its role as one of the world’s most important financial centers. FinTech Week, for example, was thus the biggest gathering of global fintech heavyweights in the city since the pandemic started.
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That being said, the situation is not perfect yet. The current “0+3” program, even with two fewer PCR tests required, will still discourage many others from visiting Hong Kong, thus causing Hong Kong to lose potential tourists and talent, in a time when all the other financial centers are willing to take advantage of Hong Kong’s situation.
All other financial centers, in America, Europe and Asia, are fully reopened; therefore, Hong Kong is competing with them at a disadvantage.
For example, last month, Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po mentioned in a blog post that Hong Kong is outperforming Singapore as an international financial center in several ways. Chan mentioned that Hong Kong enjoys greater expectations for its larger-scale business community than Singapore, including the stock market, foreign exchanges, bonds, and asset-management services.
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Hong Kong organized its Hong Kong Sevens too, but we cannot forget that most of the audience was actually local Hong Kong residents. Before the pandemic, the Hong Kong Sevens could easily draw a total of 120,000 spectators. In 2019, overseas visitors accounted for half of the attendees, and the tournament contributed approximately HK$400 million ($51.2 million) to the city’s economy, according to Reuters
Chan’s comment came after Singapore topped Hong Kong in third place, behind New York and London, in the latest ranking of the global financial center index report from the Global Financial Centres Index last month.
While Mr Chan’s remarks are very true, it is undeniable that Singapore is beating Hong Kong lately when it comes to the organization of large events and therefore attracting tourists and foreign talent: A few weeks ago, Singapore hosted several huge international conferences as well as the Formula One Singapore Grand Prix, which attracted hundreds of thousands of international visitors.
Hong Kong organized its Hong Kong Sevens too, but we cannot forget that most of the audience was actually local Hong Kong residents.
Before the pandemic, the Hong Kong Sevens could easily draw a total of 120,000 spectators. In 2019, overseas visitors accounted for half of the attendees, and the tournament contributed approximately HK$400 million ($51.2 million) to the city’s economy, according to Reuters.
This year, more than 25,000 tickets were sold, which is a high figure but much lower than that of before the pandemic. This year, international spectators were “down significantly”, as per the Hong Kong Rugby Union, with this year’s event more “locally focused”. Corporate box sales, which raked in HK$116 million in 2019, are down year-on-year, in line with expectations, the union said. With many of Hong Kong’s restrictions only recently lifted, many companies had little time to plan for the event.
This Hong Kong Sevens example unfortunately applies to many other areas, affecting all industries in Hong Kong and mostly its hospitality industry.
While the “0+3” model, implemented a couple of months ago, has proved to be very successful and has caused many more visitors to arrive in Hong Kong, I think that Hong Kong should get rid of all the remaining travel restrictions as soon as possible, just as Singapore did a while ago, and just as Japan and most countries in Asia have already done. Otherwise, Hong Kong will remain at a disadvantage for way too long.
It is vital for Hong Kong to maintain and even enhance its role as one of the world’s most important financial centers, and the best way to do so is by fully reopening. As I said, not fully reopening will hinder its growth, now that Hong Kong has so much potential to grow due not only to its role as a major financial center but also due to its involvement in projects like the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area.
The author is a fintech adviser, a researcher and a former business analyst for a Hong Kong publicly listed company.
The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.
HONG KONG NEWS