Don’t forget Hong Kong as you reopen

Martin Donovan watches destinations in Asia Pacific ease international travel restrictions while the Chinese region battles to control the pandemic – hopefully in time for July 1

SPARE a thought for Hong Kong as you read of the border reopenings from Australia to Vietnam and Malaysia to New Zealand.

From being one of the most successful regions in the world in reducing the numbers of Covid cases, Hong Kong suddenly ranks as one of the worst. People here are anticipating a lockdown next month in which the population takes three rounds of mandatory testing at government-designated venues, like empty schools and sports centres.

There again, there are widespread doubts that the testing will even take place given the lack of a clear strategy on getting the city out of a situation that has seen hospitals placing patients outdoors and the construction of “temporary dwellings” to isolate people infected with the Covid virus.

Dining in restaurants ceases after 6pm, among other prohibitions such as gym closures, and in the latest bizarre twist 40-plus beaches are being cordoned off in a move that followed criticism on social media in mainland China after images surfaced of Hongkongers enjoying the sands as the weather warmed.

Backgrounder… Biz event leaders urge HK Gov to change course

One merciful move has been the reopening of hair salons, but the situation is still dire for event and travel companies as it has been for the past two years.

How did we get into this situation? A low vaccination rate among the elderly population and the relentless surge of Omicron.

While other parts of the world are accepting a “living with Covid” strategy, senior officials in Hong Kong get agitated when questioned about a declared “zero-Covid” option. As if to deflect criticism this has been rephrased as “dynamic zero-Covid”.

Daily press conferences are held but it’s nonetheless a challenge for the events industry to find any significant clue as to whether there’s a roadmap. Instead they look to expertise such as a new study from the University of Hong Kong stating that nearly 4 million of the city’s 7 million plus people are already infected with the Omicron strain, suggesting the peak has already been reached.

All this has done little to ease concerns in the corporate world with executives being relocated to (yes, you guessed it) Singapore as quarantine rules and flight bans remain.

More Opinion… Will winter in Beijing save Hong Kong’s fortunes?

I did hope that the timing of big events would offer some clues with the Beijing Winter Olympics and the return of the RISE tech conference to Hong Kong. RISE has now been postponed.

Well, it turns out that the only clue in timing from the close of the Winter Games was Putin embarking on his “special operation” in Ukraine – or so it has been claimed, and strenuously denied.

The only other major event on Hong Kong’s horizon is the 25th anniversary of the territory’s return of sovereignty to China on July 1. It’s set to be a grand affair with President Xi Jinping due to attend. With the current situation it will be a challenge to hold such an event even with the best effort of orchestration.

It seems the only signal of Hong Kong seeing a route out of this malaise is if officials get the timing right as the big day approaches. One can only hope Omicron has an equally acute sense of timing.

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