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Amid Covid-19, plenty to ponder

Hong Kong, 24 June, 2020: While the coronavirus pandemic continues to affect our daily lives in multiple ways, it is by no means the main topic of conversation in Hong Kong these days. News programmes, publications and websites are dominated by one issue, namely the national security law which Beijing is about to implement in our city.

Yet, despite all the commotion, we know little about the new law other than vague details from senior figures in Hong Kong and Beijing and a drip-feed of inside information passed on to journalists by anonymous sources. We are told to expect the new law to take effect as early as next week, that concrete details will only be unveiled once this happens, that Beijing will set up an agency to oversee the new law, that our Chief Executive will consult the Chief Justice about setting up a panel of judges to hear cases, and that the legislation will allow for some individuals to be transferred to the Mainland for trial. But there is so much we don’t know, such as the exact scope of offences and the penalties offenders will face. Thus, much of the talk is conjecture.

As a rule, legal professionals prefer to deal with facts. It is my belief that until we can read the new law in black and white and absorb its contents, it is pointless to comment. I’m aware of people’s concerns and understand why there is feverish speculation, but the devil is in the detail. I prefer to wait and see.

As for Covid-19, it has been a mixed bag of news. While we have seen social distancing measures further eased – outdoor public gatherings of up to 50 people are now allowed – we are also reminded how deadly the virus can be, especially for more vulnerable citizens. Hong Kong has recorded two more fatalities in recent days, a man aged 72 and a 78-year-old woman, both among a cluster of cases which surfaced in a Sha Tin housing block. As well, there has been a wave of 46 imported cases, mostly residents arriving from Pakistan, a development which would appear to justify our government’s use of dedicated quarantine centres. Our city’s tally of infections now stands at 1,177 with six related fatalities.

As well, talks over establishing a travel bubble between Hong Kong, Macau and Guangdong Province have stalled over technical issues regarding quarantine measures and health certificates for travellers. Our government is coming under considerable pressure to get an agreement over the line in order to further kick-start the economy. Yet, looking at the bigger picture, there is still no end game in sight as regards travel restrictions.

Enough gloom, I should finish on a positive note. At least the English Premier League has returned to provide some welcome distraction and Chelsea are winning again. Without Covid-19, currently I would be somewhere in Europe following England’s fortunes in Euro 2020, a tournament now postponed to next summer. Seeing football back on our screens has me looking forward to better times.

Stay safe and well, everybody!

Colin Cohen
Senior Partner
Boase Cohen & Collins