Hong Kong’s borders have been sealed for more than a year and its quarantine rules — which require compulsory hotel stays of up to three weeks — are among the strictest in the world.
Corporate executives, however, are now eligible for special treatment.
The city’s Securities and Futures Commission quietly published a notice on Friday saying that fully vaccinated “senior executives” from local companies or their international affiliates could apply for an exemption to skip quarantine when they visit or return to Hong Kong. It did not issue a news release, and the notice offered no explanation for the timing or justification for the measure.
Neither the Securities and Futures Commission nor Hong Kong’s Department of Health responded to requests for comment on Saturday.
The Chinese territory reported no new cases on Friday. Though densely populated, it has managed to avoid a full lockdown and has kept its coronavirus caseload low through aggressive social distancing rules and forced quarantine in government facilities for close contacts of Covid-19 patients, among other measures. Even vaccinated travelers must quarantine in hotels for one to two weeks, depending on where they fly in from.
The quarantine exemption announced on Friday is not the first for corporate executives in Hong Kong; a similar one was issued last year for executives from local companies re-entering the territory from the Chinese mainland. But it further illustrates how coronavirus policies in the Hong Kong, which has one of the biggest income inequality gaps in the world, do not apply evenly to all of its 7.5 million residents.
Officials have imposed lockdowns and mass testing after Covid-19 clusters were detected in poor neighborhoods, where many residents live in crowded tenements with faulty piping and poor ventilation. Critics have accused the government of allowing the conditions for outbreaks to fester, then imposing heavy-handed measures on a group that can least afford to bear them.
The government has also repeatedly accused the 370,000 or so migrant domestic workers who live in the city of violating social distancing restrictions, even though major outbreaks have revolved around clusters of expatriates and wealthy locals.
In early May, the government backtracked on a contentious order that would have required all migrant domestic workers to be vaccinated. But it still went ahead with a plan to subject them to a second round of compulsory coronavirus testing, despite the first round turning up just three positives among 340,000 people.
The government has said that its compulsory testing protocols are based solely on “risk assessment” and apply equally to anyone working in high-risk places, including nursing homes.