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Cases spiral, but context is important

Hong Kong, 22 July 2020: Hong Kong is now experiencing what much of the world has gone through these past six months, namely a sharp rise in Covid-19 infections, the majority of them locally transmitted with many from unknown sources, and warnings about the strain on our health system.

Authorities announced 61 new cases yesterday, 58 of which were classed as local as opposed to imported, while 25 of these could not be sourced. The so-called third wave of Covid-19 has brought more than 700 fresh cases over the past two weeks. Our city’s total now stands at 2,019 confirmed cases with 12 fatalities. Clusters have appeared at care homes and restaurants while an outbreak among taxi drivers has, it appears, further spread the virus.

As a result of this steep increase, the Hospital Authority says isolation beds in public hospitals are becoming limited, especially since the current wave is affecting more elderly patients who naturally require greater care. It states that up to 77% of first-tier isolation beds are in use and points out that the maximum capacity for Covid-19 patients is around 80%, since the remaining isolation rooms are needed for coronavirus testing and patients who are seriously ill with other illnesses.

Many people are asking, how has this happened? After all, it was only at the beginning of this month that Hong Kong was riding a three-week streak of zero local infections. Fingers are being pointed at alleged loopholes in border controls – since tightened, the government is keen to stress – especially concerning the testing of air and sea crew. It can also be argued that Hong Kong’s general success in fighting the pandemic through to the end of June engendered a degree of public complacency.

While the situation appears alarming, I do feel the figures should be put in context. Currently in Hong Kong, one person in 3,690 people is confirmed with Covid-19. In the UK this figure is one in 224 and in the US one in 85. The co-ordinated response of people here to the pandemic, their strict adherence to social distancing and personal hygiene protocols, has been generally outstanding. I’m hopeful this collective sense of responsibility, in tandem with the enhanced public health safety measures currently in force, will see us emerge from this third wave sooner rather than later.

As we have witnessed, one side effect of the pandemic has been a video conferencing revolution that has transformed the way we work and communicate. On a personal note, it has allowed me to interact with a whole new audience, so I recently had the pleasure of speaking via Zoom to the Abraham Society, a UK-based discussion group, about Hong Kong’s fascinating history and events that have led to our new national security law. This latter topic seemingly brings new developments each day, the latest being the UK following the lead of Canada and Australia in suspending its extradition treaty with Hong Kong while the US is reportedly on the verge of doing likewise.

A significant number of Hong Kong’s extradition cases, both incoming and outgoing, relate to money laundering and drug dealing. As I pointed out in a recent interview with the South China Morning Post, crimes have no borders in the modern world so the need for co-operation between jurisdictions is obvious. Hong Kong, with its rule of law and excellent judicial system, has traditionally been a solid partner for countries in such matters. The Hong Kong government, of course, is unhappy to see these extradition agreements suspended and has said so. We await further fallout from the national security law in due course as we continue to grapple with this public health emergency.

Stay safe and well, everybody!

Colin Cohen
Senior Partner
Boase Cohen & Collins