Coronavirus: top Hong Kong business chambers urge government to expand quarantine exemption beyond finance sector bigwigs

·4-min read

A pair of leading Hong Kong business groups have called on the government to expand its exemption of compulsory coronavirus quarantine beyond the financial sector’s top brass if it hopes to reopen the economy, while foreign domestic helpers have slammed the existing arrangement as discriminatory.

The influential American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong (AmCham) told the Post on Wednesday that exempting vaccinated brokers, bankers, insurers and senior executives at larger listed firms from quarantine appeared “oddly inequitable” to other sectors that had made significant investments in the city and region.

“The growth plans for Hong Kong cut across other key sectors such as law, health care, aviation, tech and the arts just to name a few,” said Tara Joseph, its president. “They should also be given the same travel opportunities in a collective goal of reopening Hong Kong’s economy and interconnectivity.”

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AmCham president Tara Joseph says key sectors including law, health care and technology deserve the ability to travel freely just as much as finance. Photo: May Tse
AmCham president Tara Joseph says key sectors including law, health care and technology deserve the ability to travel freely just as much as finance. Photo: May Tse

The local economy has been devastated by a near-total lockdown in place since January last year, with all but three border checkpoints closed.

The city’s largest business body, the 4,000-strong Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce, joined AmCham on Wednesday in saying sectors beyond finance were just as important to the economy’s well-being.

“It would be useful for people if the government could state under which circumstances other sectors will be able to travel,” chamber CEO George Leung Siu-kay said. “A clear road map will avoid any problems and misunderstanding, and we shouldn’t wait too long between each stage.”

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Both chambers advocated expanding the exemption to other companies in stages.

The government last week said it would allow financial institutions to submit the names of four senior executives each month to be exempted from quarantine on arrival. The submissions are vetted by regulators such as the Hong Kong Monetary Authority and the local stock exchange.

Rights groups representing Hong Kong’s domestic workers, meanwhile, have branded the measure discriminatory, saying such exemptions should also apply to them.

“This is a kind of discrimination, again and again they do it to marginalised communities,” said Eni Lestari, chairperson of the International Migrants Alliance.

There are nearly 400,000 domestic helpers working in Hong Kong.

Any policies aimed at preventing the spread of the coronavirus should be science-based, Lestari added, while policies to encourage more people to get vaccinated should include helpers, many of whom had already received the jabs.

Lestari noted that many domestic workers had not been able to return to their native countries for more than a year now because of travel restrictions, adding that those who were already vaccinated should be allowed to travel more freely.

Many of Hong Kong’s domestic helpers have been unable to return home since the pandemic’s beginning due to expensive quarantine requirements. Photo: Xiaomei Chen
Many of Hong Kong’s domestic helpers have been unable to return home since the pandemic’s beginning due to expensive quarantine requirements. Photo: Xiaomei Chen

“Mandatory quarantine has been a big issue for both employers and workers, because it’s too expensive,” Lestari said. “A lot of employers won’t even let their workers take leave to go home because the quarantine is too expensive.”

Johannie Tong Hiu-yan, from the advocacy group Mission for Migrant Workers, said that exemptions should be applied equally, rather than offered to targeted groups.

“We understand and will comply with any government policies related to virus control. But the policies must not be discriminatory and should be equal,” she said.

“I don’t really understand the rationale behind allowing in bankers, but if they can allow in one group of vaccinated people, then shouldn’t all visitors receive the same treatment?”

Both Lestari and Tong also said there was a lack of clear information about the vaccination programme being provided to domestic workers in their native languages, making them hesitant to get the jabs.

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