President Xi Jinping’s rumored visit to Hong Kong to mark the city’s 25th anniversary of Chinese rule is in doubt after top officials in the city came down with COVID.

Two senior members of incoming Chief Executive John Lee’s cabinet — including his No. 2 — have tested positive for the virus, the government revealed in a Thursday statement. Lee and his government are due to be sworn in on July 1, at a ceremony that the Chinese leader has been widely expected to attend.

While Xi’s visit has never been confirmed, it’s been the practice for China’s leaders to attend the swearing in since 1997. Xi last visited five years ago when Carrie Lam became chief executive. The infections come as the city takes a more liberal approach toward the virus than the mainland since an outbreak earlier this year swept through the population of 7.4 million. Hong Kong reported 1,522 new cases on Thursday, compared with 44 for the whole of mainland China.

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If Xi doesn’t come it may show Hong Kong failed to do a good enough job to manage its COVID situation, said Dongshu Liu, an assistant professor specializing in Chinese politics at the City University of Hong Kong.

Local officials attending the July 1 celebrations are expected to enter a weeklong “closed-loop” arrangement that would confine them to their homes and workplaces, without use of public transport, culminating in one night of hotel quarantine, the South China Morning Post previously reported, citing sources.


“If more officials get infected, it’s probably more embarrassing and awkward than anything,” Dongshu said.

Mainland Affairs Secretary Erick Tsang, who keeps his post in the next government, and incoming Chief Secretary Eric Chan are now both in isolation. Chan has been isolating since Tuesday, the statement said, after his wife tested positive for the virus. Chan and Tsang went to work last on Monday and Wednesday, respectively. Permanent Secretary for Development Ricky Lau is also infected.

If Lee and outgoing Chief Executive Carrie Lam test positive it could derail the entire July 1 handover celebration.

Lee has so far tested negative, according to a spokesperson for the office of the Chief Executive-elect. “The Chief Executive-elect last met Mr. Erick Tsang and Mr. Eric Chan several days ago. Mr. Lee took a PCR test on Wednesday and the result was negative.”

Lam last had a “brief” face-to-face conversation with Chan on Monday, according to a government spokesperson, adding that relevant social distancing measures were followed and as such Lam isn’t considered a close contact. She has had no direct contact with Tsang for over a week, the spokesperson said. Lam tests daily and the most recent result was negative, they said.

Beijing is making contingency plans for the ceremony, which includes sending a senior official to the city and having a “state leader” give a speech via teleconferencing, the SCMP reported on Friday, citing Ip Kwok-him, a local deputy to the National People’s Congress, China’s legislature.


Xi hasn’t left mainland China since January 2020, when he visited neighboring Myanmar at the outset of the pandemic. Since then, the mainland has stuck to its COVID Zero policy of trying to eliminate all cases with lockdowns and mass testing.

Since Xi’s last visit, Hong Kong has seen historic anti-government protests in 2019 that pushed back against China’s increasing influence on the city, resulting in Beijing imposing a sweeping national security law that has since crushed dissent. Xi then revamped the city’s electoral system to ensure only Communist Party patriots can rule.

Chinese state media has recently trumpeted Xi’s “deep affection” for the city. Communist Party mouthpiece People’s Daily published a 2,000-word article Monday entitled “Hong Kong’s Development is Always Close To My Heart,” highlighting Xi’s speeches throughout his decade in power on the city’s progress. The article was republished Tuesday on the front page of Beijing-controlled local newspaper Ta Kung Pao.