HSBC chief backs Hong Kong’s coronavirus isolation

People commute on a tram past the HSBC bank headquarters in Hong Kong on October 25, 2021. (Photo by ISAAC LAWRENCE / AFP)

SINGAPORE (AFP) — The boss of Asia-focused lending giant HSBC backed Hong Kong’s decision to mirror China’s zero-Covid strategy on Thursday despite rising concern within the finance industry over the business hub’s international isolation.

Hong Kong has maintained some of the world’s harshest quarantine measures and travel restrictions during the pandemic.

The strategy has kept infections low but ensured a business hub that dubs itself “Asia’s World City” has been cut off internationally for the past 20 months.

The government has tied the city’s fortunes to China’s strict coronavirus strategy and said normalisation of travel with the mainland must come before any reopening to the rest of the world.

HSBC CEO Noel Quinn said he supported that approach.

“It’s important for Hong Kong to establish what they need to establish with China on reopening,” he said in an interview with Bloomberg.

“I don’t want to do anything that may jeopardise that. I would love to get back to Hong Kong as soon as I can and when the authorities feel it’s right for me to go back, I will,” he added.

Quinn’s comments contrast with growing alarm voiced by international businesses in Hong Kong over how they are struggling to retain and recruit talent as rival finance centres reopen.

A recent survey by the city’s main banking lobby group warned almost half of major international banks and asset managers are contemplating moving staff or functions out of the city.

On Wednesday global delivery giant FedEx said it was closing its crew base in Hong Kong and relocating pilots overseas because of the public health rules.

Earlier in the week Jamie Dimon, Quinn’s counterpart at JP Morgan Chase, warned his bank was struggling to recruit and keep employees during a whistlestop visit to the city where he was granted rare permission to skip mandatory quarantine.

Quinn was speaking to Bloomberg at a gathering of executives in Singapore, which has restarted international business travel and switched to a strategy of living with the virus.

– Quarantine camp –
Most visitors to Hong Kong must undergo 2-3 weeks of mandatory hotel quarantine, a policy officials have made clear will continue well into 2022.

In a stark illustration of the rules, 130 Cathay Pacific cargo crew were sent to a quarantine camp for 21 days after three colleagues were confirmed infected upon return from Germany.

On Thursday, Cathay said the three infected pilots were fired due to “a serious breach of requirements during crew overseas layovers”.

The company said they have also requested the government review the decision to quarantine so many pilots, a move Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam admitted would have a “huge impact” on logistics.

China and Hong Kong are crucial markets for London-based HSBC which makes the vast majority of its profits in Asia.

It has been wary of making statements that might anger Beijing, which has a long track record of punishing businesses that disagree with government policy.

Last year HSBC publicly backed Beijing’s decision to impose a national security law on Hong Kong that has crushed dissent and transformed the city.

In the Bloomberg interview Quinn said he hoped this week’s virtual summit between the leaders of China and the United States would ease geopolitical tensions.

“I don’t think the world can decouple from one of the biggest manufacturing nations of the world and what will be one of the biggest consumption markets in the world,” he said.

© Agence France-Presse