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Over the moon about a welcome break

Hong Kong, 30 September 2020: Hong Kong is in holiday mood today as we prepare for a four-day long weekend. Firstly, I wish everyone a happy Mid-Autumn Festival. Falling tomorrow on the 15th day of the eighth lunar month, Mid-Autumn Festival is when families gather to sample autumn harvests, light lanterns and admire what is believed to be the fullest moon of the year. It is also a time when many people eat mooncakes which are, shall we say, an acquired taste.

Tomorrow is also National Day, commemorating the formal establishment of the People's Republic of China on 1 October 1949. It is always a day off here whereas in the Mainland the break extends a further six days for what is known as Golden Week. With curbs on international travel because of the coronavirus pandemic, Mainlanders are turning to local tourist destinations and are expected to make some 15 million domestic flight trips over the next eight days, a 10% increase from last year.

Of course, Mainland tourists would normally be poised to visit Hong Kong in droves at this time, but Covid-19 has put paid to that. In fact, inbound travel from the Mainland has fallen 99% year on year for every month since March. It is well documented that our tourism industry is on its knees, as are airlines, and yet a practical solution to the reopening of borders without stringent quarantine measures appears no closer. Our Chief Executive Carrie Lam yesterday revealed discussions were taking place to relaunch cross-border travel in a “gradual and orderly manner” with priority given to Hong Kong residents living in the Mainland who would be allowed to skip quarantine if they could show a negative Covid-19 test. That’s good news for those individuals but everyone else, it seems, must remain patient. Perhaps, hopefully, possibly … these words seem to pepper updates about proposed travel bubbles between Hong Kong, Macau, Guangdong Province and other destinations where the pandemic is largely under control.

On the subject of a road to nowhere, our government embarked on such a journey when, as part of its massive wage subsidies programme to prop up sagging businesses, it gave handouts to Hong Kong’s two biggest supermarket chains. In fact, both Wellcome and ParknShop have seen sales soar in the pandemic as people shun restaurants and wet markets. After widespread criticism, the government ordered both enterprises to find a way of sharing their windfall with customers. Cue chaos.

Wellcome received HK$184.5 million and has committed to giving back 54% while ParknShop collected HK$162 million and has offered to give back 50%. The former has pledged to freeze prices on some 300 products for six months while the latter said it would hold a lucky draw for shopping vouchers. The government immediately said it would not support price-freezing since this would be impossible to monitor, especially trying to differentiate between discount offers and daily promotions. It said any give-back initiative should be “quantifiable and transparent”. The Consumer Council, meanwhile, has understandably dismissed the lucky draw idea as “not a relief measure at all”. Both supermarkets have been given until December to come up with more acceptable proposals.

Amid this bun fight, Hong Kong’s daily Covid-19 count has dwindled to almost an afterthought. There were four new cases yesterday, all imported, taking the official tally to 5,079, with 105 related deaths. We are told to expect around nine cases today. Even so, most social-distancing measures will remain in place for the coming week although, from Friday, authorities will lift the ban on religious gatherings and team sports. Places of worship will be allowed to operate at up to half capacity while team sports will be permitted at designated grounds and exempted from the cap on public groupings of more than four people.

And on that note, I’m off to pack my suitcase. Correct, yours truly is going on holiday for a few days, even if it is only two kilometres down the road to the Four Seasons for a staycation with daughter Marianne, son-in-law Vincent and grandson Nathan, aged six. Adding to the fun, Nathan will stay in a tent pitched in his room. I just hope gung gung (grandfather) isn’t expected to sleep in it as well.

Stay safe and well, everybody!

Colin Cohen
Senior Partner
Boase Cohen & Collins