Wall Street banks want quarantine-free trips for bankers attending HK financial summit

Several of Wall Street’s biggest banks have made quarantine-free trips a prerequisite for senior executives to attend a Hong Kong conference designed to trumpet the financial hub’s rebirth after years of reputation-damaging Covid restrictions .

Hong Kong’s banking regulator has been in informal talks with lenders on how to organize the two-day conference in early November and secure an international star cast, according to people familiar with the talks. The CEOs of Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and UBS Group AG, all with major operations in the city, are among those informally invited by the Hong Kong Monetary Authority, the organizer of the conference, the people said, asking not to be named discussing private information.

The stakes are high for Hong Kong to hold a major in-person conference that shows it can keep pace with regional rival Singapore, which has a packed calendar of events after dropping most of the pandemic-era curbs. Discussions with lenders are being led by Eddie Yue, the head of the HKMA, and Paul Chan, the Chinese territory’s financial secretary, the people said. Banks’ concerns have been passed to the health office, which makes the final call on Covid policies.

“We are moving forward with the initiative announced by the Financial Secretary in this year’s budget to hold a high-level investment summit,” a HKMA spokesperson said in a statement sent by email. “We are in discussion with relevant stakeholders on appropriate arrangements to facilitate the organization of the event.”

Some banks told officials their top executives from the United States and Europe would only participate if they were allowed to skip the city’s current seven-day hotel quarantine, the people said. The HKMA asked if other overseas staff will join the delegate as he assesses whether quarantine-free travel can be arranged for a larger group, another person said.

Among the questions raised are how to deal with CEOs and other executives who test positive on arrival, and whether attendees will be allowed to move freely beyond the conference venue. If the city agrees to the quarantine waiver, senior executives could be given a code yellow, which would ban them from going to bars or restaurants but allow meetings with customers, a person involved in the talks said.

Media representatives from all banks declined to comment.

While much of the rest of the world has dismantled Covid restrictions on travel and gatherings, Hong Kong is sticking to mainland China’s zero-tolerance approach. Aside from quarantine for travelers and infected people, public gatherings of more than four people are still prohibited – although indoor events may be larger – and masks are mandatory.

The city is set to reduce its hotel quarantine from seven days to just four days, with the remaining three spent at home, according to local media. Under Chief Executive John Lee, a former police officer who took charge of the city in July, the city could also roll out a Continental-style color-coded system to oversee people’s movements.

Hong Kong has made quarantine exceptions in the past, including for actor Nicole Kidman and JPMorgan Chase & Co. CEO Jamie Dimon, who made a 32-hour visit at the end of 2021. But an outcry ensued. followed among locals who have been forced to endure nearly three years of travel, movement and business restrictions that have hurt the economy.

Admittedly, some executives were not discouraged.

“Absolutely, I will be there”, HSBC Holdings Plc. CEO Noel Quinn said in an interview Monday. “It’s great to see Hong Kong starting to open up.” Quinn has made several trips to the former British colony over the past year, most recently to attend an informal meeting with retail investors from Hong Kong.

Hong Kong is seeing around 4,000 infections a day, up from more than 70,000 a day in March when a fifth wave hit the city.

November will also mark the return of the Hong Kong Rugby Sevens, an iconic sporting tournament and notoriously rowdy party. The tournament was planned around a series of Covid rules, including players kept in a closed-loop system similar to what was used at the Beijing Winter Olympics earlier this year, according to the submission from the organizer to the government.

By contrast, Singapore will host the Formula 1 Grand Prix race in September with minimal restrictions as it repositions itself as a prime business and tourism destination following its pivot to a life strategy with Covid-19. The Shangri-La Dialogue in June drew top diplomats and military officials from around the world to the city-state.

(Bloomberg)