Erick Tsang, secretary for constitutional and mainland affairs, and Eric Chan, director of the Chief Executive’s office, both tested positive through nucleic acid tests and are undergoing isolation, a Hong Kong government statement said on Thursday.
Their infections raised concerns about a possible visit by state leaders for July 1 celebrations in the city, including the swearing-in of Hong Kong’s new leader and the anniversary of the handover of British rule in 1997.
It also casts doubt on the robustness of the city’s “closed-loop” arrangement, which requires officials to avoid public engagements and quarantine ahead of scheduled ceremonies.
While China is sticking to a byzantine approach of rapid lockdowns, mass testing and quarantine to enforce its zero-covid policy, Chinese officials appear to be taking extra precautions to avoid contracting the virus.
Xi has not left mainland China since the outbreak of the pandemic more than two years ago. And while it remains a closely guarded secret whether he will attend the handover ceremony, the Hong Kong government has begun to prepare for the arrival of a delegation of state leaders from across the still largely closed border with the mainland.
Hong Kong’s top officials entered the closed-loop system on Thursday, requiring them to travel from home to work only by private vehicle and spend a night in a quarantine hotel on the eve of the transfer anniversary. They are also tested daily for Covid-19.
“Mr. Tsang and Mr. Chan last went to work on June 22 and 20, respectively. They wore masks and followed relevant disease prevention measures at work, including rapid antigen tests performed daily with negative results. They have no recent travel history ,” government statement said.
The statement made no mention of the two officials’ symptoms.
Chan becomes the city’s No. 2 on July 1, while Hong Kong’s new leader, John Lee, takes over.
Despite high vaccination rates and a reduction in the number of cases, the Hong Kong government remains committed to its own “zero Covid” style, strict social distancing and contact tracing measures, as well as strict border restrictions – including a mandatory seven-day hotel quarantine for all arrivals.
Additional coverage by CNN’s Martin Goillandeau and Hannah Ritchie.