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Staying grounded and logging in

Hong Kong, 20 May 2020: There has been a lot of talk about the “new normal” as the world wrestles with Covid-19 and its impact on everyday business and social life. In adapting to this unprecedented emergency, we recognise that some of the changes forced on us may be here to stay long after the pandemic has subsided.

The increased use of video conferencing is a prime example. In their recent blog on this topic, my colleagues Joshua Tong and Jennifer Lee highlighted how worldwide use of the Zoom application has increased 10-fold since the coronavirus outbreak began. Other platforms such as Polycom, Cisco Webex, Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts and Skype are also being more widely utilised.

Boase Cohen & Collins has embraced this digital transformation with video conference calls now a part of the daily routine for many of our lawyers. We have even held internal meetings in this fashion to avoid group gatherings. We have also been involved in remote court hearings as our Judiciary’s implementation of video conferencing gathers pace.

Video technology is also being put to good use this week in respect of Ally Law, the global legal services organisation in which Boase Cohen & Collins is Hong Kong’s sole member. This week should have seen Ally Law’s AGM being held in Vancouver, with our lawyers among the 100 or so delegates gathering from around the world. With the physical AGM cancelled, the business meeting is being conducted via video conferencing, hence I was able to deliver my Expansion Committee report to delegates via a Zoom meeting last night. Similarly, this week our firm is involved in a case management hearing at a court in London regarding a civil matter – there are almost 40 participants in various parts of the world logging on via Skype for Business, the preferred platform of the English courts, and it is proceeding perfectly smoothly.

While there will never be a totally satisfactory substitute for in-person meetings, video conferencing is making us appreciate that such gatherings are not always necessary, especially when factoring in the time and cost of air travel, not to mention the environmental impact. For many seasoned business travellers, the “new normal” is going to involve staying home and logging in.

Hong Kong’s broad success in fighting the coronavirus continues, with no new cases reported on Monday or Tuesday. Thus far, our city has recorded 1,055 confirmed infections – just over .014% of the population – with only four related deaths. The limit on public gatherings, currently set at eight people and which had been due to expire tomorrow, will remain in place for at least two more weeks and those public venues which have already been allowed to resume business must maintain social distancing measures.

Of course, part of our city’s effective containment policy has involved imposing strict border controls. 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, as must returning residents. However, not all returning residents are treated equally. While those coming back from jurisdictions such as the US and UK are allowed to quarantine at home, others from certain countries – including South Africa, India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Nepal – are automatically placed in government-run quarantine centres, a situation which has resulted in at least two legal challenges to the government’s policy.

A further sign of Hong Kong’s gradual recovery arrived today with students starting to return to school after nearly four months off. Some of our city’s international schools were the first to welcome back pupils this morning, with classes in most local schools due to resume from Wednesday next week, beginning with senior secondary students. It has been a testing period for students, teachers and – perhaps most of all – parents, especially those with young children. The reopening of classes is being widely greeted with relief.

In closing, I’m grateful to our friends at OT&P Healthcare for once again allowing me to share their latest coronavirus update and, as well, a reminder to check 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