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Call for unity comes with some fine ideas

Hong Kong, 2 December 2020: “This is a time for solidarity,” says our Chief Executive Carrie Lam as her administration fights Hong Kong’s so-called fourth wave of coronavirus infections by reintroducing tough social distancing rules. These include restricting public gatherings to just two people; reducing restaurant dine-in hours and cutting the number of patrons permitted at each table from four to two; and the closure of various types of leisure and entertainment venues.

Schools are already shut, as are pubs and bars. From today, most of our city’s 177,700 civil servants are again required to work from home. The proposed travel bubble between here and Singapore, announced with much trumpeting and then delayed for two weeks, has now been further postponed until 2021.

With Carrie’s rallying call echoing in our ears, the health authorities are trying to instill an all-for-one, one-for-all spirit of camaraderie in the community. Hong Kong’s official Covid-19 website comes with the headline “Together, we fight the virus!” – a slogan replicated on billboards across the city. Five more community testing centres are opening this week, bringing the total to 14. Residents are urged to use the “Leave Home Safe” mobile app, which allows them to record places they visit and be notified if an infected person has also been there.

In attempting to foster this feeling of togetherness, it might seem perverse for the government to set up hotlines so residents can report offenders, but this is precisely what it has done. There’s a general hotline for your common or everyday social distancing breaches – groups of individuals standing together in conversation, restaurant tables not far enough apart and so on, and a special one directly to the marine police for reporting parties aboard private yachts and junks. In this regard, officers will also be on the lookout for online advertisements for boat outings.

In announcing these hotlines, Ms Lam added: “I hope people will not overreact,” which may be wishful thinking given that a multi-platform tip line for the public to report suspected violations of the national security law received more than 10,000 messages in its first week. To further ensure our compliance, the fixed fine of HK$2,000 for breaching social distancing rules is set to be increased to HK$10,000. There is now also mandatory testing for people who have visited so-called cluster venues such as care homes, hospitals, restaurants and construction sites.

Hong Kong confirmed 82 new coronavirus cases on Tuesday, taking our city’s total to 6,396, with 109 related fatalities. The new cases included 32 linked to the “super-spreader” cluster from dance studios and dance schools which has grown to 552 cases. We are told to expect 103 new infections today.

Amid all the hue and cry, I do feel a sense of perspective is required. In Hong Kong, the virus has infected roughly one in 1,164 individuals – that’s less than .09% of the population – over the past 10 months, the vast majority of whom have fully recovered after experiencing little or no discomfort. You are three times more likely to be involved in a traffic accident than catch the virus. (More than 20,000 people were injured in road collisions here in 2019.) Last year’s winter influenza season, which lasted some 14 weeks from 1 January to 6 April, resulted in 356 deaths, although I don’t recall widespread panic then. As I have stressed throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, we should separate facts from myths and read the science rather than the latest social media rumours.

A further observation about our Chief Executive. In a wide-ranging and less-than-searching interview with the South China Morning Post several days ago, she insisted she has no hobbies and doesn’t relax “because I devote every minute of my time to work”. Really? We are not machines, we need balance in our lives. I would have thought everyone, especially someone in a position of responsibility, requires downtime, space to switch off and recharge their batteries. It also gives you chance to step back and reflect, look at the bigger picture. Sometimes, this helps you avoid making mistakes.

One of my favourite ways to relax is spending time with six-year-old grandson Nathan and I shall be doing exactly this today with a pleasant 90 minute walk from one side of Lamma Island to the other. Nathan might well balk at the idea of a hike – and will require bribing with a promise of sweets, toys etc – but I shall tell him that if Grandad can do it, so can he. After all, this is a time for solidarity.

Stay safe and well, everybody!

Colin Cohen
Senior Partner
Boase Cohen & Collins

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