JPMorgan Chase chairman and CEO Jamie Dimon is the latest high-profile figure to receive the “Nicole Kidman” COVID quarantine exemption from the Hong Kong government.
In August, the government spared Hollywood actress Nicole Kidman from the city’s harsh quarantine requirement, a move that sparked backlash among Hong Kong residents who called the exemption unfair and tone-deaf.
City residents vented on the popular “HK Quarantine Support Group” on Facebook—which has over 60,000 members—arguing that humane travel policies shouldn’t be reserved for the rich and powerful. Kidman can get a green pass from the Hong Kong government, while the majority of travelers “can’t come to [the city] to see our dying relatives,” one user posted in the group. Another user wrote that “the privileged can jet-set into Hong Kong on a breeze without [any] consequences…The rest of us [are] forced into three weeks of solitary confinement with [crap] food and no fresh air.”
Hong Kong has some of the world’s toughest COVID-19 restrictions, which require most arrivals to self-isolate in a hotel room for 21 days, even if they’re fully vaccinated. Hong Kong and mainland China are the only two places in the world still pursuing a “COVID zero” strategy that tries to contain every single case of the coronavirus. The city’s strict policies have kept the virus at bay. Hong Kong’s total caseload stands at 12,388, and the city of 7.5 million hasn’t recorded a locally transmitted infection for months. City officials are maintaining the strict protocols, even as vaccination rates rise, to expedite the reopening of Hong Kong’s border with mainland China, which Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam says is the government’s top priority.
Two weeks ago, the government announced it was ending loopholes for senior executives, bankers, and other groups in an effort to appease Beijing.
Dimon, it seems, still earned an exemption, reigniting the public outrage that followed news of Kidman’s special treatment. One Twitter user wrote on Wednesday that “once you are a multibillionaire, you will live in a different world with different rules,” he said in response to a Bloomberg story on Dimon’s Hong Kong quarantine exemption. Another Twitter user responded: “Remember, only big banks are immune to the virus.”
In a Tuesday morning briefing, Lam defended Dimon’s exemption, saying that it’s justified, given that JPMorgan is “a very huge bank with key business in Hong Kong.”
The CEO’s “entire trip is restricted,” she said. “The risk is totally manageable.”
Dimon flew into the city on Monday evening for a 32-hour visit. While in Hong Kong, he will lead a company town hall for the region and thank the bank’s staff for their hard work during the pandemic, according to Bloomberg.
Dimon is the first CEO of a Wall Street bank to land in Hong Kong since the pandemic began, but at least one other bank head visited Hong Kong—and endured quarantine. HSBC chairman Mark Tucker abided by the three-week hotel quarantine rule this summer when he visited the city from London for business purposes.
The world’s biggest banks and financial institutions are eager for Hong Kong to relax its quarantine measures. Last month, the Asia Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association (Asifma)—the region’s largest financial industry lobby—warned the Hong Kong government that its “highly restrictive” policies are risking Hong Kong’s status as an international financial hub and could jeopardize the city’s long-term economic potential.
Nearly three-quarters of surveyed Asifma members indicated that they are “experiencing difficulties [in] attracting and retaining talent in Hong Kong,” the group said in a letter to Hong Kong’s financial secretary, Paul Chan.
On Monday evening, Dimon acknowledged that Hong Kong’s stringent quarantine policies “make it harder” for the bank to entice and hold on to talent, Bloomberg reports. Greater China accounts for the majority of the lender’s revenue growth in the region.
Wall Street’s biggest banks have been on a hiring spree in Hong Kong and mainland China, pouring billions of fresh capital into China’s $50 trillion financial market as deal flows shift East and banks look to capitalize on the mainland’s burgeoning wealth management industry.
Last year, JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, Bank of America, and Morgan Stanley collectively racked up nearly $78 billion in China exposure—a 10% increase from 2019. And this August, JPMorgan received Chinese regulatory approval to take full control of a securities business on the mainland—a first for a foreign firm in China. Dimon at the time said that China is “one of the largest opportunities in the world for many of our clients.”
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