Hong Kong leader Lee isolating with COVID-19 after APEC trip

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Hong Kong Government Information Services

In this photo released by Hong Kong Government Information Services, Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee, center right, stands next to Chinese President Xi Jinping, center, during a gala dinner at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit in Bangkok, Thailand on Nov. 17, 2022. The Hong Kong government said Monday, Nov. 21, 2022 that leader John Lee tested positive for COVID-19 after returning from the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meetings in Thailand. (Hong Kong Government Information Services via AP)

HONG KONG – Hong Kong leader John Lee tested positive for the coronavirus after meeting with other regional leaders at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Thailand, the city's government said Monday.

Lee tested negative throughout his four-day stay in Bangkok but his test upon his arrival at Hong Kong’s airport on Sunday night was positive, it said.

Lee is now in isolation and will work from home, according to a statement from the Chief Executive’s Office. Other officials at his office who went to Thailand with Lee all tested negative.

Lee had a slight fever and a sore throat in the afternoon, the office said in a later statement.

Lee's aim at the forum of Asia-Pacific economies was to promote Hong Kong’s image as the city reopens to the world after imposing severe COVID-19 restrictions for much of the pandemic.

During his trip, Lee met various leaders including Indonesian President Joko Widodo and Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. In some closed-door sessions, he sat next to Chinese President Xi Jinping, where both leaders were seen without masks. He also shook hands with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, who was wearing a mask.

On his first day, he welcomed Xi at the airport in Bangkok and was seen standing next to the Chinese president as they entered a gala dinner that evening. On Saturday, Lee said he had talked to Xi and briefed the president about Hong Kong's status.

Asked about Xi's health, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said “Chinese delegations to foreign countries have been following the established COVID protocols.” She did not elaborate.

In September, Hong Kong scrapped its mandatory hotel quarantine measures for incoming travelers as it sought to remain competitive and open up globally. But travelers have to undergo three days of home monitoring. If they test negative for the virus after three days, they will be allowed into venues such as restaurants and bars.

Starting last Friday, rules have been further relaxed for visitors coming to Hong Kong in tour groups. Those who apply and meet certain conditions can eat at designated restaurants during the first three days of their visit.

Lee said Sunday the easing of the restrictions would be gradual and balanced against the risks.

Last week, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen left the Group of 20 summit in Indonesia early because of his own positive COVID-19 diagnosis. It came just days after he hosted U.S. President Joe Biden and other leaders for a Southeast Asian summit. Biden did not attend the APEC meeting.