Hong Kong school quarantine request hints at Xi handover visit


A Hong Kong primary school is looking at pupils to spend a week in hotel quarantine ahead of next month’s handover anniversary, fueling speculation a strict “closed-loop” system will allow Chinese President Xi Jinping to visit.

The first day of July marks 25 years since Hong Kong was handed to China by colonial Britain, as well as the first day in office for the city’s new Beijing-anointed leader John Lee.

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

With little over a fortnight to go, officials have yet to say whether Xi or any other state leader will attend the celebrations.

But local media has been filled with reports suggesting extraordinary measures will be in place to protect dignitaries from the coronavirus, including sequestering hundreds of participants in quarantine.

Those reports have mostly cited unnamed sources, but one such order has been confirmed.

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

The arrangement will require the pupils 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 volunteer their kids for a “rare honorable mission” to greet unspecified visitors at the airport on June 30 and send them off a day later.

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

School principal Wong told AFP the notice was “internal administrative procedure” to gauge parent interest, and that the government had yet to finalise plans.

Wong, who also chairs the HKFEW, said the notice went out to primary six students — usually aged 12 — but declined to say how many have signed up so far.

– ‘One country, two systems’ –

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

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

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

The difference in policy means Hong Kongers coming into close contact with Chinese leaders will likely be required 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 top officials — ahead of a possible visit by a state leader, the South China Morning Post reported.

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

Xi has not traveled outside mainland China since January 2020, when the coronavirus burst from the central city of Wuhan, touching off a global pandemic.

He has since cocooned himself — and China — from the rest of the world, keeping borders mostly closed and eschewing international travel.

The Beijing Winter Olympics earlier this year were the one time during the pandemic that Xi met world leaders face to face.

An enormous, interlinked closed loop system was put in place to successfully host the Games.

The Chinese Communist Party places huge stock in anniversaries, and Hong Kong’s handover presents Xi with a major propaganda opportunity.

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

Xi has declared “a new chapter” for the city after huge and sometimes violent protests in 2019 were crushed by authorities, helped by a sweeping security law that has criminalised much dissent.

China promised Hong Kong could maintain key freedoms and autonomy for 50 years after the British handover under a “One Country, Two Systems” model.

Beijing says that system remains intact.

Critics, including many Western nations, say it has been eviscerated less than halfway through.

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