Hong Kong school quarantine request hints at Xi’s transfer visit

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Hong Kong (AFP) – A Hong Kong primary school is looking for pupils to spend a week in hotel quarantine ahead of the anniversary of the handover next month, fueling speculation that a strict ‘closed-loop’ system will allow Chinese President Xi Jinping to surrender.

The first day of July marks the 25th anniversary of the cession of Hong Kong to China by colonial Britain, as well as the first day in office of the city’s new ruler, Beijing-appointed John Lee.

China’s top leaders have attended the swearing-in of every Hong Kong chief executive since the handover in 1997, but Xi has not left the mainland since the coronavirus pandemic began.

At just over a fortnight, officials have yet to say whether Xi or any other heads of state will attend the celebrations.

But local media has been replete with reports suggesting extraordinary measures will be put in place to protect dignitaries from the coronavirus, including sequestering hundreds of quarantined attendees.

These reports mostly cited unnamed sources, but such an order was confirmed.

Parents of students at the Wong Cho Bao School, run by the pro-Beijing Hong Kong Federation of Education Workers (HKFEW), have been asked to register their children to welcome the visiting dignitaries.

The arrangement will require students to undergo seven days of hotel quarantine away from their families, with the government footing the bill, according to a notice shown to AFP by school principal Wong Kam-leung.

The notice encouraged parents to nominate their children for a “rare honorable mission” to greet unspecified visitors at the airport on June 30 and turn them away a day later.

The students involved will begin hotel quarantine on June 23 under the supervision of a teacher and attend classes via Zoom, the notice said, adding that they must be double-vaccinated.

July 1 will mark 25 years since the British ceded Hong Kong to China Bertha WangAFP

School principal Wong told AFP the notice was an “internal administrative procedure” to gauge parents’ interest, and that the government had not yet finalized plans.

Wong, who also chairs the HKFEW, said the notice had been sent to the six primary school students – usually aged 12 – but declined to say how many have registered so far.

“One country, two systems”

China remains committed to a strict zero-Covid strategy that negates outbreaks with social distancing, lockdowns and border controls.

Hong Kong has its own version of zero-Covid, which has kept the international mall isolated for much of the pandemic.

But the city’s controls are less strict than those in mainland China and have started to ease in recent months.

The difference in policy means Hong Kongers coming into close contact with Chinese leaders are likely to have to undergo quarantine, according to local media.

Authorities have planned a “closed-loop system” to isolate around 1,000 people – including outgoing city leader Carrie Lam, her successor Lee and other senior officials – ahead of a possible visit by a head of state, reported the South China Morning Post.

Lawmakers may also be asked to enter quarantine, with accommodations for them to attend legislative meetings, according to media reports.

Xi has not traveled outside mainland China since January 2020, when the coronavirus broke out from the central city of Wuhan, triggering a global pandemic.

He has since isolated himself – and China – from the rest of the world, keeping borders mostly closed and avoiding international travel.

The Beijing Winter Olympics earlier this year was the only time during the pandemic that Xi met face to face with world leaders.

A huge interconnected closed-loop system was put in place to successfully host the Games.

The Chinese Communist Party places great importance on anniversaries, and the Hong Kong handover offers Xi a major propaganda opportunity.

After the handover, Hong Kong was promised 50 years of relative autonomy under the model
After the handover, Hong Kong was promised 50 years of relative autonomy under the “One country, two systems” model. Bertha WangAFP

In 2017, he stayed in Hong Kong for three days to mark the 20th anniversary, and former heads of state have tended to make such a trip every five years.

Xi declared “a new chapter” for the city after huge and at times violent democratic protests in 2019 were crushed by authorities, aided by a sweeping security law that criminalized much dissent.

China has promised that Hong Kong could maintain key freedoms and autonomy for 50 years after British handover under the “One country, two systems” model.

Beijing says this system remains intact.

Critics, including many in the West, say it was less than half gutted.

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