Beijing silent over Xi Jinping’s brush with Covid-19 in Hong Kong

A Hong Kong lawmaker has sparked concerns over the health of Xi Jinping after testing positive for Covid-19 just two days following his meeting with the Chinese president.

Steven Ho, a member of Hong Kong’s biggest pro-Beijing party, returned a positive test on Saturday. But Ho said he was negative when he was tested on Thursday before he stood two rows behind Xi for a masked group photograph and meet-and-greet session.

The health of Xi, China’s most powerful leader in a generationis among the most sensitive issues in the country, meaning there is little chance of commentary on the incident by officials or media.

“I did not just say ‘Hello President’, I also said to Xi, ‘thank you for your hard work, president’,” Ho wrote on social media. “He nodded at me. He was very friendly.”

The event, which was attended by more than 80 selected people, took place during Xi’s first trip outside mainland China in more than two years.

Xi made the two-day visit to Hong Kong to mark the 25th anniversary of the territory’s handover from Britain to China and to wear in John Lee as the territory’s new chief executive.

The president did not spend the night in hong kong amid a resurgence of Covid cases in the territory, choosing instead to travel back to Shenzhen and return the next day. About 2,000 cases a day are being reported in Hong Kong.

Guests such as Ho who were scheduled to meet Xi were required to undergo daily coronavirus tests and hotel quarantine before the sessions.

Ho added that he skipped Friday’s wearing-in ceremony after an “uncertain” Covid result came back that day.

But one person who attended the same session as Ho dismissed the health risks involved. “Maybe the picture looked close, the spacing was actually quite far,” he said. “You could not take the mask off.”

Macau, the gambling hub neighboring Hong Kong, is also facing its worst coronavirus outbreak with more than 850 cases reported in the past two weeks. Its first two Covid deaths were recorded on Sunday. Local authorities did not rule out locking down the city as a new round of mass testing began on Monday.

Casino operators in the former Portuguese colony are burning through their cash reserves, with analysts expecting “near-zero” revenues during the period. Although casinos have been allowed to remain open, customer numbers have plummeted and staff have been instructed to stay home.

Separately, China reported 41 locally transmitted Covid-19 cases on Monday and 339 local asymptomatic cases, which it classifies separately.

The total number of new cases more than doubled over the weekend to almost 400, from fewer than 200 a day earlier, and is up from about 50 in mid-June.

The vast majority of the cases are centered around Anhui and Jiangsu, two provinces neighboring Shanghai. Local authorities reimposed lockdowns in Lingbi, a county of more than 1mn people in Anhui’s north-east, and ordered a sixth round of compulsory testing for all residents of Si, another nearby county.

China’s eight-fold increase in cases over the past two weeks will test attempts by Xi’s administration to ease draconian curbs on travel and economic activity under the president’s controversial zero-Covid policy.

Last week, China halved its quarantine period for international travelers to one week, the first significant nationwide relaxation of restrictions since waves of the Omicron variant hit Shanghai and Beijing this year.

Yet the challenge of completely eradicating coronavirus will only increase with the arrival of more transmissible Covid sub-variants. Health researchers warned last week that cases of the BA.4 and BA.5 variants were increasing.

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