Two senior Hong Kong officials have tested positive for the Covid-19 virus, which could derail any chance of an official visit from Chinese leader Xi Jinping next week to mark the 25th anniversary of the city’s handover to China.
A statement issued by the Hong Kong government on Thursday said Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Minister Eric Tsang and Chief Executive Officer Eric Chan have tested positive through nucleic acid tests, and they are subject to isolation.
Their infection has raised concerns about a possible visit by state leaders for the city’s celebrations on July 1, which include the swearing-in of Hong Kong’s new leader and the anniversary of its 1997 handover from British rule.
It also casts doubt on the strength of the city’s “closed-loop” arrangement, which requires officials to avoid public participation and go into quarantine before planned festivities.
While China adheres to the Byzantine approach of sudden closures, mass testing and quarantines to maintain its Covid-free policy, Chinese officials appear to be taking extra precautions not to contract the virus.
Xi has not left mainland China since the epidemic broke out more than two years ago. And although whether he will attend the handover ceremony remains a closely guarded secret, the Hong Kong government has begun preparing for the arrival of a delegation of state leaders across the still largely closed border with the mainland.
Senior officials in Hong Kong entered the closed-loop system on Thursday, under which they can only travel between home and work by private car and must spend a night in a quarantine hotel on the eve of the anniversary of the handover. They are also being tested daily for the Covid-19 virus.
The last time Mr. Tsang and Mr. Chan went to work on June 22 and June 20, respectively. They wore masks and followed relevant disease prevention measures at work, including daily rapid antigen tests with negative results. “They have no recent travel history,” the government statement said.
The statement did not mention the symptoms of the officials.
Chan is set to become the city’s second official on July 1, with incoming Hong Kong leader John Lee taking the lead.
Despite high vaccination rates and low overall cases, the Hong Kong government remains committed to its “zero Covid” approach, maintaining strict social distancing and contact tracing measures, as well as strict border restrictions – including a mandatory hotel quarantine for a period of time. Seven days for all arrivals.