Illustration by Sayazhan Sagynay

Hong Kong’s Isolationist Covid-19 Policy is Bringing the City Down

With its ridiculously long quarantine and ban on foreign visitors, Hong Kong’s “Zero Covid” policy is taking a serious toll on the city and its residents.

Nov 13, 2021

On Nov. 10, the Hong Kong government announced that New Zealand will be reclassified as a medium risk country, meaning that arrivals from the island nation will be subject to 14 days of hotel quarantine. Prior to this change, New Zealand was the only low risk country that qualified for a 7 day quarantine. Starting Nov. 17, when this reclassification will officially enter effect, all foreign arrivals will have to quarantine for 14 to 21 days depending on their country of origin.
Unlike most countries that have adopted a “living with Covid” strategy, the Asian economic hub continues to stand firm to its “Zero Covid” policy where it aims to completely eliminate local cases. Currently, only local residents are allowed to enter the city and those coming from high risk countries, including the United States and UAE, must be fully vaccinated and are subject to a 21 day mandatory quarantine. The unusually long quarantine period has been repeatedly criticized as unscientific and unnecessary as 99 percent of positive cases were detected in the first two weeks.
Hong Kong’s draconian Covid-19 policy is a desperate attempt to restart quarantine free travel with mainland China, which is another staunch advocate of “Zero Covid” that has shut itself off internationally.
Wesley Choi, a third year history and political science student at the University of British Columbia, scoffed when asked about the Hong Kong government’s approach to containing Covid: “It’s not just a clown it’s a whole damn circus … They want to disconnect Hong Kong as an international city … there is a more political motive in this move rather than actual health concerns.” He is referring to the special administrative region’s efforts to distance itself from the west and draw closer to Communist China ever since its suppressed democratic movement.
Though Choi and his immediate family now reside permanently in Canada, he still has relatives living in Hong Kong and is frustrated by his inability to visit them due to strict travel restrictions in place.
Jessica Flaten Cheng is an expat from the United States who is currently residing in the city with her husband. In September, she finally decided to travel back to the U.S. to see her family as her grandmother was dying of cancer. While she believed that the trip was worth the three week quarantine, she expressed her extreme frustration at the current situation: “There are so many desperate people [trying] to scramble to comply … so much grief and pain from people realizing they won't be able to get a quarantine room so they won't get back in time to see dying loved ones or attend milestone events.”
Many Hong Kongers living abroad have flown back to see their dying family members one last time, but some narrowly miss the chance to do so due to extensive quarantine.
“The rules keep changing at a cost mainly to the city’s foreign population,” Cheng lamented. “I know so many who are questioning how much longer they will be here as it feels like we have [borne] the brunt of Hong Kong's approach to handling the virus.”
Speaking to us from his quarantine hotel room in Shanghai, Marco Liu is the Asia Pacific and China Security Leader at one of the largest professional services firms in the world. He is currently on his first business trip in 22 months. Prior to Covid-19, he spent 60 percent of his time traveling in Asia Pacific and China. Although his company has greatly reduced travel costs since the pandemic necessitated a change to Zoom meetings, he noted that Chinese clients prefer meeting face to face and talking business over dinner, as such, his company has gradually resumed mainland Chinese travel even amid the current restrictions.
“My team and my clients are very excited to see me coming to China as they know that quarantine plus all those Covid [tests] are not easy. This is good for relationship building but quite a big [sacrifice] for me as it is quite costly both in terms of time and money for quarantine,” he shared. “I also need to leave my family for a month to make my trip worthwhile. The usual duration for my trip to China was three to five days. But this time, I will leave home for 35 days,” said Liu.
All three interviewees expressed a strong desire for Hong Kong’s borders to reopen as soon as possible and for quarantine free travel to resume. However, a government source revealed that the city probably will remain closed to the rest of the world until at least mid-2022.
Charlie Fong is Senior News Editor. Email her at
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