Hong Kong’s chief executive tested positive for Covid-19 just days after interacting with his boss, Chinese President Xi Jinping, at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum in Bangkok.
John Lee sat next to Xi at a meeting on November 18 and also stood next to him at an event on November 17, potentially one of Xi’s closest known contacts with the virus since the start of the pandemic.
China has followed a strict zero-Covid policy, routinely forcing millions of people into self-quarantine and shutting down at home despite the huge economic and psychological costs.
Neither politician wore a mask during the two meetings.
“[John Lee is] in solitary confinement,” the Hong Kong government said Monday. Lee tested positive upon his return to Chinese territory on Sunday.
The news comes as confusion deepens over the future of China’s zero-Covid policy, with any reopening closely watched by investors who hope it will pave the way for an economic recovery.
Some cities hit by epidemics, such as the provincial capitals Shijiazhuang and Guangzhou, were initially allowed to impose less stringent restrictions but have since implemented stricter controls.
Xi has only started traveling outside of China in recent months. A brief trip to Central Asia in September was his first overseas trip since January 2020, when the virus broke out from central China.
The health of the top leaders of the Chinese Communist Party is a closely guarded secret. Xi, who returned to China over the weekend, is likely to remain out of public view until he completes the final quarantine requirements, which include at least five days of self-isolation. .
The Chinese leader’s week-long tour of Southeast Asia for the G20 summit in Indonesia and the annual APEC leaders’ meeting in Thailand marked his return to the world stage. He had many discussions with peers, including US President Joe Biden, as well as the leaders of France, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, Australia, Japan and from South Korea.
Xi’s last known contact with the virus was in June, when he visited Hong Kong to mark the 25th anniversary of his return to Chinese sovereignty. A Hong Kong lawmaker, Steven Ho, posed in a group photo with Xi and later tested positive, but all in the photo were wearing masks at the time.
Hun Sen, the Cambodian leader, tested positive for Covid-19 after hosting Southeast Asian leaders Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and Biden just before the G20 summit.
Investors had been hoping for further easing of the zero-Covid policy since November 11, when China announced several measures, including reducing the number of quarantine days for incoming travelers and close contacts of Covid cases.
Shijiazhuang, a northern city not far from Beijing, has been at the forefront of easing draconian restrictions. On November 13, the city moved from full lockdown to reopening, including dropping population-wide Covid testing and removing the requirement to show negative coronavirus test results to enter buildings. and public transport.
Covid cases continued to spread among residents, however, and over the weekend the city government backed down, imposing a new lockdown. He also ordered thousands of students to return home from college campuses hit hard by the latest outbreak.