HONG KONG (Reuters) -Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said it was “unarguable” that the global financial hub was seeing a brain drain due to stringent coronavirus rules, but added she valued the city’s international status and envisioned a “better development” after the pandemic.
Lam’s comments come amid a backlash from businesses and residents who see the rest of the world shifting to living with the virus while Hong Kong officially sticks to a dynamic-zero COVID-19 strategy to curb all outbreaks as soon as they occur.
Lam said no one valued the international status of Hong Kong more than she, but the government had to adopt anti-pandemic measures to protect residents.
“These measures have certain influence on corporates and individuals, although we don’t have a figure. … It’s an unarguable fact that we have a brain drain and some senior management of some corporates have left Hong Kong,” she told a daily news briefing on Wednesday.
“The most important thing is Hong Kong keeps its advantages. I believe after the pandemic, Hong Kong can have a better development.”
Lam said “streamlining” certain measures, including lifting a ban on flights from nine countries and reducing quarantine for arrivals from abroad, would help ease concerns about the city’s international status.
Her remarks come just weeks before the city’s May 8 election to choose its leader for the next five years, but Lam declined to say if she would run again.
Hong Kong adopted at the start of the year its most draconian measures since the pandemic began more than two years ago, frustrating many residents who had been largely compliant with curbs in hopes of resuming travel.
Its border has effectively been shut since 2020, with few flights landing and transit allowed to hardly any passengers, isolating a city that had built a reputation as a global hub for finance and travel.
But behind its public adherence to China’s dynamic-zero policy, Hong Kong has begun to shift to mitigating the effects of outbreaks it can no longer prevent.
The rules, together with mixed messages by the government on issues such as a citywide lockdown and mass testing, spurred an exodus of residents in the past two months.
Health authorities reported 6,981 new infections on Wednesday, continuing a steady decline from a record high of more than 58,000 on March 9.
The former British colony’s tally of infections exceeds 1.1 million with more than 7,600 deaths, most in the past five weeks.
Densely populated Hong Kong has registered the most deaths per million people globally in recent weeks.
(Reporting by Farah Master, Jessie Pang and Twinnie Siu; Editing by Bradley Perrett.)