Hong Kong leader says plans to review COVID restrictions on Monday

A man wearing face mask and shield shops at wet market during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic in Hong Kong, China, March 16, 2022. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

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HONG KONG, March 20 (Reuters) – Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said on Sunday she plans to review COVID-19 restrictions on Monday, just days after acknowledging that many financial institutions were “losing patience” with coronavirus policies in the financial hub.

The Chinese-ruled city has some of the most stringent COVID-19 rules in the world, with a ban on flights from nine countries including Australia and Britain, and hotel quarantine of up to two weeks for incoming travellers.

The city has also imposed a ban on gatherings of more than two people, while most public venues are closed, including beaches and playgrounds, face masks are compulsory and there is no face-to-face learning for students.

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On Saturday, authorities reported a three-week low of 16,597 new COVID-19 cases, down from more than 20,000 a day earlier.

The coronavirus outbreak has swept through elderly care homes and paralysed many parts of the city.

In recent weeks, streets in the heart of Hong Kong’s financial centre have been eerily quiet, restaurants and bars shuttered or empty, and supermarket shelves bare as people snapped up groceries amid fears of a city-wide lockdown.

Many businesses across the city have been forced to shut, including gyms, restaurants, and bars, while others say they are living on borrowed time and need restrictions to ease immediately in order to survive.

Hong Kong has seen a net outflow of around 50,000 people so far this month, compared with more than 71,000 in February and nearly 17,000 in December before the fifth wave hit.

While Hong Kong is officially clinging to a “zero-COVD” strategy that aims to curb all outbreaks, recent actions and policy tweaks suggest it is pivoting away from that at a time when most other major global cities are learning to live with the virus.

The official policy mirrors that of mainland China which is also facing a huge challenge as a jump in cases restricts the movement of millions of people and affects some of the country’s industrial hubs.

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Reporting By Anne Marie Roantree and Greg Torode; Editing by Shri Navaratnam and Muralikumar Anantharaman

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