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Reminder the fight is far from over

Hong Kong, 13 May 2020: The overall feeling of optimism in Hong Kong, generated by a relaxing of social distancing measures amid just a trickle of imported Covid-19 infections, has been slightly dented by the confirmation yesterday of a new locally transmitted case. This, coupled with a fresh cluster of community cases in Wuhan, the Chinese city where the coronavirus was first detected, is a reminder that we are by no means out of the woods in fighting this pandemic.

Our city had last reported a locally transmitted infection on 19 April. Confirmation that a 66-year-old woman, with no recent travel history and no known contact with Covid-19 patients, has the virus has brought our city’s 23-day streak to an end. It has also been reported that four of her relatives have shown symptoms and are now isolated in hospital.

While acknowledging this unwelcome news, it should be stressed how successful Hong Kong has been thus far in containing the pandemic. Our city’s total number of infections stands at 1,048 with just four related deaths, astonishingly low figures for a population of more than 7.4 million. We should remember as well that this has been achieved without the sort of total lockdown we have seen in many other parts of the world. Indeed, last Friday saw the lifting of some social distancing restrictions with many public amenities, including bars and pubs, gyms, cinemas and beauty salons, being allowed to reopen. While the authorities are, understandably, urging continued caution and vigilance, it does feel like we are making real progress.

In other news, Hong Kong’s reputation as a place for doing business has been illustrated in somewhat regrettable fashion with the government’s great free mask giveaway being undermined by profiteers. More than three million applicants have registered for the washable CuMask+ which has been developed and manufactured at government cost, but even before deliveries have started the masks are being advertised for sale online. Hopefully, there will soon be so many of these masks in circulation that there will be few willing buyers.

Attention is also turning to our rigorous border controls. I have mentioned before that a key factor in Hong Kong’s efforts to combat Covid-19 has been the transformation of our renowned international city into a virtual hermit state. All non-residents are banned from entering except for travellers from Macau, Taiwan and mainland China who have not been to any foreign country in the previous two weeks. Even then, they must undergo 14 days’ quarantine after arrival here.

Now our government is in talks with neighbouring Guangdong province and Macau to relax cross-border quarantine measures – with extreme caution, it must be stressed. Authorities hope to draft a plan to allow some residents of the three jurisdictions to be exempted from quarantine. The measure would be limited to people with specific reasons to travel and who had taken a virus test to prove they were not infected.

As well, there has been an interesting footnote to the Judiciary’s gradual implementation of video conferencing for court hearings. In a remote hearing involving a family matter conducted in the Court of Appeal, one of the parties who was residing in the USA was unable to procure the equipment or visit an external video conferencing site that met the required technical specifications. However, the Court allowed him to view a live broadcast of the remote hearing with software provided by his solicitors on the undertaking that they would not make a recording of it.

At Boase Cohen & Collins, our lawyers are continuing to write articles aimed at providing guidance and clarity for businesses and the general public as we navigate the pandemic. Among the latest blogs, my colleagues Joshua Tong and Jennifer Lee explore security issues in video conferencing while Alex Liu considers the benefits and pitfalls of working remotely. Both these articles are featured on Ally Law’s COVIDAlly microsite which is full of useful information and insights for the business community.

Stay safe and well, everybody!

Colin Cohen
Senior Partner
Boase Cohen & Collins