(Bloomberg) — Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee tested positive for Covid-19 at the airport after returning from the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Thailand, where he met with Chinese President Xi Jinping and other global leaders.
He will work from home during the isolation period, a government statement said Monday.
Lee’s infection comes amid a rising case load in Hong Kong, where the government has eased the strict Covid Zero strategy of the first two years of the pandemic but hasn’t yet fully decided to live with the virus. The city reported 7,763 new infections on Sunday and 13 deaths.
Lee’s visit to Thailand marked his first trip overseas to promote the city’s standing as a global financial center and attract investment after years of Covid isolation weighed down economic growth. The Asian financial hub slashed its growth forecast for year in the latest survey conducted by Bloomberg News, with economists predicting a decreased gross domestic product of 2.7% from 3.5%.
No Mask Mandate
The prominent gathering created a conundrum for Lee and Xi, leaders who continue to try to curb Covid even as the rest of the world has accepted it as endemic. A range of restrictions are in place in both China and Hong Kong, particularly in high risk settings.
The two men had multiple maskless encounters at APEC last week. They stood shoulder-to-shoulder at the gala dinner on Nov. 17, while they sat side-by-side during a closed-door meeting the next day.
Lee’s infection highlights the risk they face while reengaging with the world. China continues to implement its Covid Zero policies to stamp out the virus, including shutting down some shopping malls in Beijing as the capital city has emerged as one hot spot in the country’s latest outbreak.
In addition to Xi, Lee met with the Chinese ambassador to Thailand Han Zhiqiang, Vietnamese President Nguyen Xuan Phuc, and Thai Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Energy Supattanapong Punmeechaow and others.
Hong Kong has steadily rolled back its virus curbs since the summer in a bid to salvage its status as a finance hub. The city scrapped hotel quarantine in September, has tolerated thousands of daily community infections and recently returned to hosting international events, such as the Rugby Sevens and the Global Financial Leaders’ Investment Summit. Masks, however, are still required, even outdoors.
(Adds details throughout)