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Time for us to be good neighbours?

Hong Kong, 27 May 2020: As Hong Kong continues its gradual return to some sort of normality amid the Covid-19 pandemic, the subject of relaxing border controls – on a highly selective basis, of course – is being increasingly discussed. Creating a so-called “travel bubble” with mainland China, Macau and perhaps Taiwan would be a significant first step in kick-starting our battered economy, insist supporters of the idea.

Our government has confirmed it is studying proposals for using an electronic health certificate to exempt Hong Kong residents from the mandatory 14-day quarantine period if they have visited Macau or neighbouring Guangdong province. There are also ongoing talks between all three jurisdictions about a mutual agreement for some residents to be exempted from quarantine, most likely those with specific reasons to travel and who have taken a virus test.

The complex, deep-rooted and multi-layered ties between Hong Kong and Guangdong cannot be overemphasised. It may surprise readers of this column – especially those residing overseas – that Hong Kong has some 27,000 students who normally cross the border from the mainland every day to attend kindergarten, primary school or secondary school here. They include the children of Hong Kong residents living over the border as well as those who have gained the right of abode here by birth. The vast majority of senior Hong Kong secondary school students returned to school today after four months away from classes and will be followed by younger colleagues early next month. But thousands of students remain stranded across the border and will have to continue online learning. Their parents are, understandably, prominent amongst those hoping for some sort of border agreement soon.

Hong Kong yesterday extended its run without locally transmitted coronavirus cases to 12 days. Our city’s total number of infections remains at 1,065, with four related deaths. About 60% of the confirmed infections here were either imported cases of people infected elsewhere, or their close contacts. The government has announced a further relaxation of social distancing rules with karaoke lounges, party venues, bathhouses and nightclubs being allowed to reopen from this Friday, with restrictions on numbers of users.

Looking at the bigger picture, it should be admitted that Covid-19 has been secondary news in Hong Kong these past few days, a reflection not only of how well we are coping with the pandemic but also widely reported political developments. Beijing’s announcement that it will impose a new national security law on Hong Kong has brought a resumption of the protests which disrupted life here in the latter half of last year. As well, a Hong Kong government bill to outlaw misusing or insulting the national anthem has also stirred passions. I said last week that the coronavirus had forced us to accept the “new normal” and, for residents of Hong Kong, ongoing social turmoil is very much a part of this.

But I wish to end on a positive note. Last week’s Ally Law AGM, which was supposed to be staged in Vancouver, was the latest business gathering to be conducted via video conferencing. It was great to see so many old friends pop up on my screen during the virtual meetings and we were happy to report that Ally Law and its member firms, including Boase Cohen & Collins, are generally in great shape. We look forward to meeting each other properly as soon as possible.

Stay safe and well, everybody!

Colin Cohen
Senior Partner
Boase Cohen & Collins