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Reason for hope as restrictions continue

Hong Kong, 15 April 2020: Is there light at the end of the tunnel for Hong Kong residents? While always cautious, we do have reason for a degree of optimism after the government announced just three new coronavirus cases – all imported – on Tuesday, the third day in a row that new infections have been in single digits. The three new cases take Hong Kong’s total to 1,012 – less than .014% of the population. Fatalities remain at just four.

At the same time, our health authorities have understandably urged the city’s residents not to let their guard down and have stressed that restrictions on social movements will continue. These include a ban on gatherings of more than four people at venues such as restaurants and the closure of leisure facilities, including many bars and pubs, cinemas and gyms. There is no end in sight to the general closure of schools and universities.

As well, our Judiciary has announced that courts will remain generally closed – bar emergency hearings – until at least 3 May. However, as I reported last week, we have made progress on using video technology for civil cases in the High Court, with two hearings conducted via video conferencing last week. Here at Boase Cohen & Collins, we are preparing to play our own small part in this new era with a judicial review hearing that is due to be held remotely on Friday next week. It should be noted that the two remote hearings mentioned above both took place in the Judiciary’s existing Technology Court, purpose-built some years ago to support video conferencing, whereas ours has been set down for a regular court room. We are working with all parties to ensure proceedings go smoothly.

Looking at the bigger picture, Hong Hong’s citizens, in line with the rest of the world, are suffering hardship as Covid-19 hammers the economy, disrupts businesses and causes widespread layoffs. To this end our government has announced its biggest financial relief package so far, US$18 billion worth of funding aimed at safeguarding businesses and employment. The main pillar of this is a US$10.25 billion wage subsidy scheme for private sector employees in which the government will pay 50% of salaries for half a year, with each worker’s monthly subsidy capped at HK$9,000 (about US$1,161).

As I have previously stressed, Boase Cohen & Collins is continuing to work while following strict hygiene regulations and, as part of this, our lawyers are writing articles aimed at providing guidance and clarity for businesses and the general public as we navigate the coronavirus pandemic. You may wish to read this useful guide to the Employees’ Compensation Ordinance provided by our Associate Stephanie Lai while our Partner Susan Cheung has examined the question of Force Majeure in fulfilling contractual obligations.

Both these articles are featured in Ally Law’s COVIDAlly blog which provides information, insights and resources about the pandemic for the business community. As well, I’m again grateful to Dr David Owens for allowing me to share his latest Covid-19 update for some much-need perspective.

Stay safe, everybody!

Colin Cohen
Senior Partner
Boase Cohen & Collins