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As Singapore moves to reopen, Hong Kong stays mired in restrictions

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People queue up for Covid-19 nucleic acid tests on April 28, 2022 in Hong Kong. While Singapore has steadily moved to reopen in recent months, Hong Kong stays mired in restrictions that critics say are costing it business and talent, with Singapore a chief beneficiary.

Chen Yongnuo | China News Service | Getty Images

When Daniel Chow left Singapore in 2020 for a job in Hong Kong, he expected that his wife and two young sons would join him as soon because the pandemic eased and the Chinese territory shifted away from its “zero-Covid” strategy.

Now Chow has moved back to Singapore after two years of frustration, citing the continued constraints of life in Hong Kong at the same time as the remaining of the world opens up.

“We decided that my family won’t move” to Hong Kong, said Chow, 43, who works in investment services. “Schools keep getting shut down, and the town has tight restrictions on movement. Kids are those who’ve suffered probably the most.” 

For a lot of the pandemic, Hong Kong and Singapore — each densely populated Asian financial hubs with residents from everywhere in the world — kept virus cases and deaths to a minimum with border closures, strict quarantine requirements and extensive testing and make contact with tracing.

But while Singapore has steadily moved to reopen in recent months, Hong Kong stays mired in restrictions that critics say are costing it business and talent, with Singapore a chief beneficiary. 

Singapore was among the many first countries in Asia to open its borders to the world. Travel has picked up in recent weeks as the town has done away with compulsory quarantines, pre-departure tests for vaccinated people and an out of doors mask mandate. The town of greater than 5 million is reporting a median of about 6,000 cases a day.

Hong Kong, too, has moved to ease restrictions, reopening the border to nonresidents, resuming in-person classes and allowing bars and other businesses to restart operations for the primary time since January.

But passengers arriving from overseas are still required to quarantine in hotels for seven days at their very own expense — a burden for frequent travelers like Chow, who had been returning to Singapore to see his family.

“This became a very big factor for me to go away Hong Kong and a good greater factor in comparison with what brought me in in the primary place, which was plenty of opportunities career-wise,” he said.

Hong Kong has retained its strict policies with the aim of reopening its border with mainland China, which has taken an identical “zero-Covid” approach. But with the mainland still emerging from its worst outbreak because the start of the pandemic, that seems unlikely to occur any time soon, holding up Hong Kong’s reopening to the remaining of the world, as well. 

Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s chief executive, said last month that hotel quarantine and testing-on-arrival requirements were “impossible” to be eased before she steps down at the tip of June, citing the danger of recent variants. The town of seven.4 million is reporting about 200 to 300 coronavirus cases a day.

Lam’s successor, John Lee, has said reopening to mainland China and the remaining of the world is one in every of his priorities. But the town’s business community has grown increasingly impatient, with lobbying groups pressing officials to lift the quarantine requirement or no less than allow travelers to quarantine at home.

“With the ability to resume travel is of the utmost importance, whether it’s with the mainland or with foreign countries,” Betty Yuen, the brand new chairwoman of the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce, told local broadcaster TVB last month. “Our strict restrictions have made us almost like a sequestered island.”

The travel restrictions have also wreaked havoc on flight schedules out and in of Hong Kong, which once had one in every of the busiest airports on this planet. Only 126,000 passengers passed through Hong Kong International Airport in April, compared with 6.5 million in April 2019.

Willie Walsh, the director general of the International Air Transport Association, told reporters in Singapore last month that it will take years for Hong Kong to get better as a world aviation hub.

“That chance goes to go to other airports within the region,” he said. “Singapore will clearly, I believe, profit from that.”

Singapore’s pandemic restrictions have also weighed on its population, with some foreign residents citing them as amongst their reasons for leaving. But the federal government has emphasized the importance of reopening the economy throughout the pandemic, said Teo Yik Ying, a professor and the dean of the School of Public Health on the National University of Singapore.  

“Compared, I believe that has not been easy for the Hong Kong government to choose unilaterally,” he said, provided that its pandemic policy is tied to mainland China’s.

The Singaporean government has also been lauded for its communication with the general public through the pandemic, which Ying said engendered trust. 

That level of trust is lacking in Hong Kong, where antigovernment protests in 2019 were followed by a pointy crackdown on dissent. Throughout the pandemic, the federal government has been criticized for inconsistent messaging and reactive measures.

Talk of leaving Hong Kong reached a fever pitch this spring as the town experienced its worst outbreak of the pandemic. Rumors of a full-scale lockdown, and particularly fears of youngsters being separated from their parents by quarantine policies, spurred hundreds to go away, no less than temporarily.

Singapore is a natural alternative, especially for those in financial services. But there are also obstacles to moving there, leading some Hong Kong businesses and families to rethink their plans. 

The town recently tightened its work visa requirements for foreign nationals due to worries they’d take jobs away from Singaporeans.

“Everyone here welcomes expatriates and foreign business to Singapore, but the secret is they should add value to the local economy and for locals,” said Walter Theseira, an associate professor of economics on the Singapore University of Social Sciences business school.

Property prices were rising in Singapore even before the influx from Hong Kong, which has also driven a surge in demand for places in private schools.

“It could be a priority for families attempting to move here, because I even have heard that individuals cannot get slots in schools,” Theseira said.

Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong says the town welcomes the prevailing competition from Hong Kong, which he says makes for “a vibrant, dynamic region.”

“We’re pleased to welcome them, but actually we can be more pleased in the event that they were pleased to stay in Hong Kong,” he told The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board in April.

Ying is hopeful that Hong Kong will soon confide in the remaining of the world.

“Hong Kong shouldn’t be just necessary to itself or for China, but it surely’s strategically necessary as an economic and transportation hub for this a part of the world,” he said. “When Hong Kong’s economy suffers, this whole region suffers, as well. So it’s to everyone’s advantage that Hong Kong is in a position to resume its status as an economic center in Asia.”

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