Hong Kong, 17 March 2021: In a recent radio interview about the UK government’s new visa scheme for British National (Overseas) passport holders, I was asked if the current political and social uncertainty in Hong Kong would cause me to depart. I answered thus: “No, I have no intention of leaving here at all, this is my home.” For all its travails in recent times, this city remains vibrant, energetic and safe. It is a wonderful place to live.
Rest assured I will not be part of Hong Kong’s potential brain drain. A study conducted by the Hong Kong Federation of Youth Groups has revealed a quarter of university-educated under-35s plan on leaving to work overseas in the next five years. Some 16% of those wishing to go have no intention of coming back, apparently. The same organisation released a survey two months ago showing 71% of young people believe our government doesn’t do enough to encourage them to develop locally.
My interview was on Monacle 24 Radio, a departure from my usual guest spots on RTHK, our city’s troubled public broadcaster. This week, the station’s new head, bureaucrat Patrick Li – parachuted in after a highly critical government report into editorial management – has axed several TV shows he considers unbalanced. RTHK has previously been accused of anti-establishment bias. Li insists he is merely ensuring content is objective and impartial; opposition figures contend he is stifling criticism of the government.
Talking of which, we finally have closure on the bail saga of the 47 activists charged with subversion under the national security law. After the shambles of the marathon proceedings at West Kowloon Court, the outstanding matters – namely the prosecutors’ challenge to 11 of the 15 successful bail applications – were wrapped up at the High Court with welcome efficiency and respect for due process. The judge revoked the bail initially granted to four defendants and allowed that of the seven others. It means 11 of the 47 are released to await trial while the others must remain locked up for months. The next scheduled hearing is 31 May.
They are hardly behind bars, but families caught up in Hong Kong’s Covid-19 treatment and quarantine procedures are still furious. There have been instances of parents being separated from young children, since the rules dictate individuals testing positive must be admitted to hospital while close contacts are sent to government quarantine centres. Around 120 children and teenagers are currently isolated at such facilities, where sparse conditions have attracted much criticism. The authorities do have wiggle room on this policy, as illustrated on Monday when two US Consulate staff members infected with Covid-19 were given special permission for their young children to join them in hospital, although this sparked accusations of preferential treatment from pro-Beijing media outlets. Our Chief Executive Carrie Lam said it showed “we are a compassionate government”. Many families would disagree.
As you read this, I will be having my first (Pfizer-BioNTech) jab, having signed up for it several weeks ago as an over-60s citizen. Our government yesterday lowered the age threshold to 30, and added domestic helpers and students studying overseas to the list of those eligible for vaccination. As a consequence, online bookings jumped eightfold yesterday.
But prior to this, there was waning interest in the vaccine programme amid persistent concerns about possible side-effects. Many of our most vulnerable citizens, those who are elderly or have serious health concerns, have balked at being inoculated. Stories about seven chronically ill patients dying after receiving the mainland-produced Sinovac jab have not helped, even though an expert panel concluded none of the fatalities could be linked to the shots. Our government has simply failed from the outset to allay safety concerns and properly educate the wider community. For the avoidance of doubt, I’m hugely supportive of the vaccination drive. You can learn all about it and book your vaccination here. Further recommended reading comes from Dr David Owens, who has written an FAQ blog on the topic. I urge you all, wherever you are, to get vaccinated.
For the record, Hong Kong registered 18 new Covid-19 cases yesterday, including five more linked to a cluster at a popular Sai Ying Pun gym which has grown to 127. Banking giant HSBC has just announced its iconic headquarters in Central is closed indefinitely amid a growing number cases among staff. Our city’s infection total now stands at 11,329, with 203 related fatalities. We are told to expect more than 10 new cases today.
Amid social distancing restrictions and lack of travel, any break from routine is welcome. So it was a pleasure to be at Mission Road cricket ground last Sunday morning with my good friend Martin Sabine, Chairman of Somerley Capital Holdings Limited, to shoot a video promoting our firms’ co-sponsorship of the Dragons, an all-Chinese development team.
Cricket was first played in Hong Kong in 1841. Traditionally, the sport has been the preserve of expatriates and our substantial South Asian community but, these days, governing body Cricket Hong Kong is making strenuous efforts to promote the game at grassroots level. It’s a positive news story involving the youth of Hong Kong. Perhaps I should mention it to RTHK.
Stay safe and well, everybody!
Boase Cohen & Collins