Omicron to challenge Hong Kong’s COVID-19 policy: ex-US diplomat

The former US diplomat told CNBC that the high-transmission omicron option will be “a very difficult challenge” for Hong Kong as the city adheres to its zero-Covid policy.

There are likely to be more opponents of the “draconian measures” given that this option seems less dangerous, said Kurt Tong, who was previously the US Consul General and the head of the US mission in Hong Kong and Macau from August 2016 to July 2019.

Tighter restrictions, including the closure of bars, cinemas and fitness centers, took effect Friday last week and will last until January 20.

“At any time, we are faced with a very dire situation of a large outbreak in the community, and therefore we must take very strong action,” said Executive Director Carrie Lam, announcing the new rules.

It will be very difficult to achieve zero Covid given the infectiousness of the omicron option, and “there will be more political pressure not to impose draconian measures against the relatively small risk to a large portion of the vaccinated population,” said Tong, who is now a partner with consulting firm The Asia Group.

Hong Kong CEO Carrie Lam talks to the media about the vaccination service ahead of his January 11, 2022 meeting in Hong Kong.

China News Service | China News Service | Getty Images

About 70% of Hong Kong’s population received two doses of the Covid vaccine. according to government data… However, “a significant proportion” of older people are not vaccinated, Tong said Thursday on CNBC’s Squawk Box Asia.

The government is “fully committed” to zero Covid and “really cannot abandon this approach, regardless of the economic impact, without any direction from Beijing to do so – which I don’t see,” he added.

Dissatisfied but resigned

When asked about public and business attitudes towards a zero-spread Covid strategy, Tong said that “the underlying feeling is unhappiness, but also a sense of resignation.”

People understand that Hong Kong wants to reopen its border with mainland China, Tong said, and that in order to do so, it needs to follow the same zero-spread Covid policy.

“It will be so,” he said.

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