Hong Kong lawmakers have questioned the government’s decision to exempt Australian actor Nicole Kidman – and four members of her film crew – from compulsory quarantine and allow them into the city to film a television series.

The movie star, who flew from Delta-hit Sydney last week, has provoked a storm of protest after she was seen on the streets of the city filming an upcoming Amazon TV show called Expats without spending time in hotel quarantine.

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The controversy continued on Friday at the Legislative Council’s Panel on Health Services when pro-Beijing Legislative Councillor Elizabeth Quat, who chairs the panel revealed that the Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development, Edward Yau, had declined to to attend the meeting, instead referring to a press statement released by the Commercial and Economic Development Bureau on Thursday.

In the statement, the bureau said that a request by Kidman’s film crew for a quarantine exemption was granted “for the purpose of performing designated professional work, taking into account that it is conducive to maintaining the necessary operation and development of Hong Kong’s economy.”

Nicole Kidman
Photo: Wikicommons and Little Brown Group.

Some legislators expressed dissatisfaction with the government’s response and posed further questions to the Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan at the meeting.

Pro-establishment lawmaker Michael Tien wanted to know if the economic benefits of Kidman’s project were examined ahead of granting the exemption.

Tien also asked Chan the details of Kidman’s exemption, including whether the actor would be required to wear a mask at all times and was banned from eating in restaurants.

“She [Kidman] already stirred a lot of controversy when she was exempted from undergoing quarantine when she flew from the US to Australia last year,” said Tien.

Michael Tien
Legislative Councillor Michael Tien. Photo: Legislative Council, via video screenshot.

“Even our Olympians from Tokyo Olympics have to quarantine for seven days. Now that you have created a precedent, does that mean that all foreign movie stars will be exempted when they fly to Hong Kong to film movies?” said Tien.

“If not, can you explain why Nicole was superior to everyone else? Even though I like her a lot.”

Another pro-establishment lawmaker, Priscilla Leung, also criticised the government’s decision.

“The case of Nicole Kidman’s exemption is not just an issue of political sensitivity, it’s a matter of health, safety and unfairness,” said Leung.

Exemption conditions

Speaking at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre after attending an event on Friday, Yau address the Kidman controversy.

He said Kidman and four of her film crew had been granted an exemption because current Covid-19 laws allow the government to do so based on individual circumstances and needs.

Edward Yau
Edward Yau. File photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

“Granting this exemption does not mean they can roam around wherever they want,” Yau said.

“We don’t see how this violated existing policies,” he said, adding that the crew would have to be fully vaccinated and comply with quarantine exemption requirements identical to those made available to bankers.

Under the exemption regulations the Bureau said that Kidman and her crew “must comply with designated disease prevention measures and other conditions to minimise any transmission risk and contact with the public.”

On Thursday a government spokesperson said that the conditions included “…but were not limited to vaccinations prior to arrival, a designated place of stay, testing and securing negative COVID-19 results on arrival and at intervals in line with the prevailing requirement of the Department of Health, pre-determined work-related itineraries, point-to-point transportation and prohibition of using public transport.”

HKFP has reached out to the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau to ask if any of Kidman’s activities in the city were not part of a “pre-determined work-related itinerary.”

Additional reporting: Selina Cheng

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Candice is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. She previously worked as a researcher at a local think tank. She has a BSocSc in Politics and International Relations from the University of Manchester and a MSc in International Political Economy from London School of Economics.