Top Hong Kong officials have checked into designated hotels in Wan Chai as part of “closed-loop” arrangements ahead of the July 1 Handover anniversary celebrations. The government has still not said whether Chinese leader Xi Jinping will visit the city for the events.

Current and incoming principal officials arrived at Renaissance Harbour View Hotel and the Grand Hyatt on Monday, TVB reported. The two hotels are connected to the Convention and Exhibition Centre, where the anniversary celebrations are expected to take place.

25th Hanover Anniversary banner July 1 Central
Banners in Central celebrating Hong Kong’s 25th Handover anniversary. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam will host a dinner banquet at her residence Government House on Thursday night, according to Sing Tao. On Friday, incoming leader John Lee will be sworn in at an inauguration ceremony that will also mark 25 years since the former British colony was returned to China.

With four days to go until July 1, questions over Xi’s attendance remain.

On Saturday, state-run media said Xi would “attend” events, but comparisons with a 2017 statement – which stated explicitly that the leader would come to Hong Kong and the dates of his visit – have sparked speculation that he may join virtually.

Carrie Lam 25th handover anniversary
Chief Executive Carrie Lam meets the press on May 31, 2022. Photo: Lea Mok/HKFP.

Executive Council member Ip Kwok-him said on an RTHK radio show on Monday that unless a massive Covid-19 outbreak were to happen, he believed Xi would come to Hong Kong.

“I think the chance of [Xi] coming is very high… if Hong Kong’s Covid-19 situation remains the same as it is now, and there are no abrupt changes, I think President Xi coming to Hong Kong to spend the 25th anniversary Handover with us should be a reality,” Ip said.

Two lawmakers who tested positive for Covid-19 last week – Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Erick Tsang and Director of the Chief Executive’s Office Eric Chan – have already recovered, local media reported.

It is a tradition for state officials to visit Hong Kong on the Handover anniversary. Xi visited to inaugurate Lam in 2017.

Carrie Lam Xi Jinping July 1 2017 Hong Kong
President Xi Jinping (right) swears in the Chief Executive, Mrs Carrie Lam (left), at the Inaugural Ceremony of the Fifth Term Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre on July 1, 2017. Photo: GovHK.

According to Sing Tao, Xi will come to Hong Kong on June 30 and July 1, but will travel from Shenzhen each day, rather than staying overnight.

Executive Council members Regina Ip and Ronny Tong both confirmed with HKFP that they will check in to a hotel ahead of attending celebrations on Wednesday.

More media restrictions

Meanwhile, authorities have further tightened media coverage of the anniversary events, which at least 10 outlets – including HKFP – have been denied access to on the grounds of Covid-19.

Media outlets which received invitations have been limited to sending a single representative. In an earlier invitation, they were told they could send up to 10 staff, while broadcasters could have up to 20 at the events.

The Information Services Department said the new arrangements were “in view of the latest epidemic situation.”

Handover 25th anniversary
Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

Media representatives must check into a designated hotel for “stringent closed-loop management” on Wednesday. They have been undergoing daily Covid-19 tests at a community testing centre since Sunday, and must also comply with Vaccine Pass requirements.

Local outlets including InMedia, as well as foreign organisations Getty Images, Japan’s Nikkei and Taiwan’s CTV, were among those who did not receive an invitation to cover the events.

The Hong Kong Journalists Association said it was “deeply concerned” by the move, adding that it urged authorities to be “more inclusive” so that media outlets could “fulfil their duty in keeping the public informed by reporting on Hong Kong’s historic moments.”

It is unclear whether there will be a live broadcast of the July 1 events available.

Heightened security

Authorities ramped up security around the Convention and Exhibition Centre over the weekend, with two-metre high barriers set up around the complex.

Police will reportedly set up a two-layer “security zone” in the vicinity of the centre, which will require people to pass a security check and show their identity documents. Police will also enhance security at the nearby Exhibition Centre MTR.

Hong Kong Science Park
Hong Kong Science Park. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

According to social media posts, the Science Park – which Xi is expected to visit if he comes to Hong Kong – will be almost entirely closed off starting Thursday afternoon. Free shuttle buses will be arranged for people to leave from 12 p.m. to 2 p.m. that day, and restaurants are to halt operations and reopen on Friday.

Officers have also been spotted on stand-by outside the West Kowloon Station. Xi will reportedly take the train to Hong Kong if he makes the visit.

Due to the large number of police officers mobilised to ensure the smooth running of the July 1 celebrations, officers in districts across Hong Kong are to work longer, twelve-hour shifts, Sing Tao reported.

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Hillary has an interest in social issues and politics. Previously, she reported on Asia broadly - including on Hong Kong's 2019 protests - for TIME Magazine and covered local news at Coconuts Hong Kong.