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Xi Jinping leaves mainland China for the first time since the beginning of pandemic

Xi is expected to spend two days in the financial center and attend a series of official events to celebrate the July 1 handover and the opening ceremony for Beijing’s incoming incoming leader John Lee, a former police officer and security chief.

Xi’s arrival coincides with forecasts of a typhoon bringing torrential winds and rain, and comes after weeks of uncertainty over whether he will risk leaving China’s tough zero-Covid bubble, to travel to a city that now reports more than 1,000 new COVID-19 cases daily. .

In the nearly 900 days since Xi left the mainland on January 17, 2020, his diplomatic activities have been limited to virtual summits and video conferences, adding special significance to his trip to Hong Kong.

Xi reiterated the policy on Wednesday during a symbolic visit to the central Chinese city of Wuhan where the virus first emerged in late 2019, saying he would rather “temporarily sacrifice meager economic growth” than “harm people’s health,” according to state news. Xinhua Agency.

“If we calculate the total costs and benefits, our policies on the Covid virus are the most economical and effective,” Xi said, adding that China has the ability to continue its non-proliferation approach “until the final victory.”

While Hong Kong has been hit hard by Beijing’s strict health policies, implementation of strict quarantine and border controls, as well as social distancing measures, it has so far avoided the kind of prolonged citywide lockdown or compulsory mass testing seen in mainland cities such as Shanghai and Xi’an.

To ensure Xi’s visit to the city runs smoothly, Hong Kong has imposed a set of COVID restrictions that include a “closed-loop” system for any public figure likely to attend official commemoration engagements.

As of last week, senior officials were banned from attending public events and restricted to using private vehicles on the go. They have also been tested daily for the Covid virus, and must spend Thursday night in a quarantine hotel before Friday’s handover ceremony.

Arrival in a changing city

The last time Xi visited Hong Kong to celebrate the handover was in 2017, marking the 20th anniversary, when he met streets filled with pro-democracy protesters.

But protests are not expected this year. Most of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy groups were dissolved after the city’s comprehensive national security law was enacted two years ago.

The subsequent crackdown has seen nearly all prominent pro-democracy figures in Hong Kong, including activists and politicians, either imprisoned or forced into exile.

Of the remaining organizations, none had applied for permits to hold peaceful protests during Xi’s trip, according to police. The League of Social Democrats, one of the few remaining pro-democracy political parties, said it would not organize any protests after several members met with the National Security Police.

“The situation is difficult, and please accept our apologies,” party chairwoman Zhan Puying said on Tuesday.

Hong Kong’s government has repeatedly defended the national security law, saying it has restored order to the city, which was rocked by pro-democracy and anti-government protests in 2019.

A government spokesperson said this month that freedom of speech, press and assembly in Hong Kong remained “protected by law” and that “people who respect the law will not inadvertently break the law.”

The letter to the house was a stern warning by police on Tuesday, when the Assistant Commissioner of Police announced that authorities would not tolerate “any acts of violence or public disturbance” or “anything that might interfere and undermine the security operation”.

Places closed, no-fly zone

The police have reinforced security measures and closed off areas close to the main places, not taking any chances. Pedestrian bridges, highways and one train station in some of Hong Kong’s busiest areas – including the financial districts of Admiralty and Wan Chai North – were temporarily closed on Thursday and Friday.

A no-fly zone has also been established across the city’s port, with the use of drones restricted throughout Xi’s visit.

Authorities have also severely restricted media access to handover ceremonies, a far cry from the open reporting environment and free local press of past years.

According to the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA), at least 10 journalists working for local and international organizations have been rejected for “security reasons”.

“With the media unable to send journalists on the ground, the Hong Kong Journalists’ Syndicate deeply regrets the strict explanatory arrangements made by the authorities for such a major event,” the press group said on Tuesday.

Reuters, Agence France-Presse (AFP) and the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post were among the media that banned their reporters from covering the celebrations, according to the Hong Kong Journalists Association. CNN’s request to attend the events was also denied.

On Tuesday, the Hong Kong Journalists Syndicate expressed its “most extreme We regret the strict reporting arrangements made by the authorities for such a major event.”

CNN’s Kathleen Magramo contributed to this report.

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