An international banking summit has opened in Hong Kong with Financial Secretary Paul Chan in attendance. His presence at the event, which aims to show the city is back in business after Covid-19 restrictions kept it largely isolated, was days ago in doubt after Chan contracted Covid while on a business trip in Saudi Arabia, where he contracted Covid-19.

Chan returned on Tuesday and health authorities ruled that he was a “recovered case” and did not need to isolate, allowing him to attend the summit. His office did not disclose the result of his on-arrival polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test.

paul chan return
Financial Secretary Paul Chan arrived from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on Tuesday night. Photo: GovHK.

Chan delivered a keynote speech to around 200 top executives from international financial institutes at the Global Financial Leaders’ Investment Summit on Wednesday afternoon. A live stream of Wednesday morning’s proceedings, which took place in a ballroom at the Four Seasons Hotel in Central, showed most of the participants not wearing masks.

Green finance and fintech

Chan highlighted green and sustainable finance and fintech as two of the main directions of Hong Kong’s future development.

“Hong Kong has this vision: to become a premier centre for green and sustainable finance that serves the green transformation in the Mainland, the region and the world,” the financial chief said.

He said Hong Kong received support from the central government’s 14th Five Year Plan for becoming a green finance centre. Chan added Hong Kong “led by example” as it started issuing government green bonds since 2018.

paul chan bank summit
Financial Secretary Paul Chan speaks at the Global Financial Leaders’ Investment Summit on November 2, 2022. Photo: GovHK.

On developing fintech, the minister said the government had adopted a multi-pronged approach, such as exploring virtual assets, providing subsidies for companies in technology adoption, and incentives for start ups to establish their business in Hong Kong.

Chan said Hong Kong has “come a long way in a short time,” from accommodating fewer than 180 fintech companies five years ago to more than 800 firms now.

Experts’ opinions

Epidemiologist Ben Cowling from the University of Hong Kong told HKFP it was common for someone who had recovered from Covid-19 to test negative via rapid antigen test (RAT) but positive through a PCR.

ben cowling FCC
University of Hong Kong epidemiologist Ben Cowling. Photo: Hillary Leung/HKFP.

“It’s very unlikely to have a negative PCR test within a few days of being RAT positive, even if the most recent RATs have given negative results,” Cowling said. “Sometimes the PCR can stay positive for weeks,” he added.

Chan said on Tuesday that he obtained two negative RAT results prior to his return to Hong Kong – one on Monday and one on Tuesday.

Under current rules, arrivals must undergo four PCR tests within their first seven days after landing in Hong Kong and conduct daily RATs. If any of those tests return a positive result for Covid-19, people must undergo isolation at home or in a government-run facility for at least seven days or until they can obtain negative results via RAT on two consecutive days.

Hong Kong business
Photo: GovHK.

Respiratory disease expert Leung Chi-chiu told HKFP Chan’s infection risk should be low. Both experts said they did not see a problem with Chan attending the banking summit.

“Similar persons will also be attending such conferences in countries living normal with virus,” Leung said.

HKFP has reached out to the Department of Health and Financial Secretary’s Office for further comment.

‘Back to business stage’ summit

Chief Executive John Lee, who gave an opening speech at the summit on Wednesday morning, described the event as “the ‘Hong Kong Onstage Again Summit’! The back to business stage. The doing business with the world stage. Where we belong stage.”

john lee global financial leaders' investment summit
Chief Executive John Lee gave a keynote speech at the Global Financial Leaders’ Investment Summit on November 2, 2022. Photo: GovHK.

The summit has been positioned as an opportunity for officials to convince the finance world that Hong Kong’s advantages as an international financial hub have not waned despite having enforced some of the world’s strictest Covid social distancing and quarantine rules.

A number of restrictions remain in place, with arrivals to the city barred from entering certain premises, including restaurants, for the first three days after their arrival, as well as a 12-person limit on group gatherings and an outdoor mask mandate.

“Hong Kong remains the only place in the world where the global advantage and the China advantage come together in a single city. This unique convergence makes Hong Kong the irreplaceable connection between the Mainland and the rest of the world,” Lee said.

The leader also said Hong Kong is ready to “scale new heights” with a series of initiatives planned to boost competitiveness, such as attracting talents and enterprises to base in Hong Kong. Those measures were introduced in Lee’s maiden Policy Address, which was announced two weeks ago.

Clarification 20:41: This article has been updated with a clarified quote from Cowling.

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Almond Li is a Hong Kong-based journalist who previously worked for Reuters and Happs TV as a freelancer, and as a reporter at Hong Kong International Business Channel, Citizen News and Commercial Radio Hong Kong. She earned her Masters in Journalism at the University of Southern California. She has an interest in LGBT+, mental health and environmental issues.