Omicron will challenge Hong Kong’s zero-Covid policy

January 17, 2022: -The highly transmissible omicron variant will be a “tough challenge” for Hong Kong as the city sticks to its zero-Covid policy, a former U.S. diplomat told CNBC.

There will be more opposition to “draconian measures” given that the variant appears less dangerous, said Kurt Tong. He was previously U.S. consul general and chief of mission in Hong Kong and Macao from August 2016 to July 2019.

Tighter restrictions which include the closure of bars, cinemas, and fitness centers, kicked in on Friday last week and are set to last until January 20.

“We face a very dire situation of a major community outbreak any time, and that’s why we have to take very decisive measures,” Chief Executive Carrie Lam said when he announced the new rules.

It will be tough to achieve zero Covid given the transmissibility of the omicron variant, and “there will be more political pressure not to have draconian measures be instituted against a relatively small risk for most of the vaccinated population,” said Tong, who is now a partner at business advisory firm The Asia Group.

According to government data, around 70% of Hong Kong’s population has received two doses of a Covid vaccine. However, a “significant proportion” of elderly people are unvaccinated, Tong told CNBC on Thursday.

The government is “completely committed” to zero Covid and “really can’t back away from that approach, regardless of the economic impact, without few instructions from Beijing to do so, which I don’t see coming,” he added.