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Come cry with me, let’s lament this disarray

Hong Kong, 17 November 2021: Do you think Carrie Lam listens to music? Unlikely, given that our famously workaholic Chief Executive insists she never relaxes. A pity, because an hour with Frank Sinatra and his swinging songs certainly puts a spring in your step and makes you think wistfully of happier times and alluring locations.

Come fly with me, let’s fly, let’s fly away
If you can use some exotic booze, there’s a bar in far Bombay
Come fly with me, let’s fly, let’s fly away

Residents of North America and Europe, at least, are able to whistle cheerfully to Ol’ Blue Eyes while contemplating a welcome post-Covid break. The US Government Accountability Office has just submitted a report to Congress detailing an impressive recovery by the nation’s aviation industry. Passenger levels in September were more than double those of February and were 191% up compared to July 2020. United Airlines announced plans to hire 300 new pilots while American Airlines was adding 150 new routes.

Optimism abounds, as well, on the other side of the pond. ACI Europe, which represents 500 airports across the continent, has just reported encouraging passenger figures for the third quarter of this year and is painting a much-improved picture for 2022. An easing of summer travel restrictions and the EU Digital Covid Certificate have boosted cross-border excursions.

Closer to home, Singapore Airlines now has vaccinated travel lanes (VTLs) with 12 countries, including the US, Canada, Australia and UK, giving inoculated travellers quarantine-free access to the Lion City from those places. By 6 December, the VTL scheme will be extended to Indonesia, India, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

Come fly with me, let’s float down to Peru
In llama land, there’s a one man band, and he’ll toot his flute for you
Come fly with me, let’s take off in the blue

Here in “zero-Covid” Hong Kong, meanwhile, we’re incarcerating our pilots. Some 130 Cathay Pacific aircrew have just been whisked off to government quarantine facilities for 21 days after three cargo pilots tested positive for Covid upon returning from Frankfurt. Carrie admitted to media yesterday: “If there are a couple more of these incidents, we will run out of cargo pilots.” No kidding!

Aircrew are exempt from quarantine measures simply because Hong Kong needs to keep operating – Cathay is the world’s fifth-largest cargo airline while this city is the world’s busiest air freight hub – but our national carrier is having to jump through hoops to keep the government happy. On Monday, Cathay unveiled “enhanced” self-isolation rules for staff, further restricting their movements at home and on stopovers.

In addition, it is consulting pilots about a drastic contingency plan to base them overseas to navigate this city’s draconian anti-epidemic measures. The scheme would see pilots relocated to the Middle East and North America, quarantined while between flights in Hong Kong and separated from their families for four months at a time. This after Cathay shut down pilot bases in the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Germany earlier this year to cut costs. Lest we forget, our government led a HK$39 billion (US$5 billion) bailout of the airline last year “to protect Hong Kong’s role as a global aviation hub”.

Once I get you up there, where the air is rarefied
We’ll just glide, starry-eyed
Once I get you up there, I’ll be holding you so near
You may hear angels cheer ’cause we’re together

How long will this zero-Covid madness continue? Perhaps we’ve barely got going. You will recall how our Health Secretary, Professor Sophia Chan, recently censured esteemed HKU epidemiologist Professor Ben Cowling in a letter to the South China Morning Post: “Questioning longer isolation of patients to further reduce risk of virus shedding is premised on a small risk being acceptable. This goes against the government’s zero-Covid goal, which aims to prevent importation of cases and spread of the virus in the community.” As part of the crackdown, senior business executives and most diplomatic personnel were stripped of their quarantine exemption privileges.

Ha! This week, JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon flew in (on a private jet) and was allowed to bypass the quarantine rules with Carrie’s full support: “It is a very big bank and he has very important business in Hong Kong. But there are restrictions over his itinerary, so the risk is completely manageable.” Mixed messaging from our leaders? Not at all, they are just telling us money talks.

Weather wise, it’s such a lovely day
Just say the words and we’ll beat the birds down to Acapulco Bay
It’s perfect for a flying honeymoon, they say
Come fly with me, let’s fly, let’s fly away

The only thing flying away from our city is commonsense. The Hong Kong Sevens rugby showcase has just been postponed for the fifth time and Disneyland is closed today for disinfecting after a visitor tested positive for Covid. In assessing this science-denying, logic-defying shambles promulgated by our government, I’m reminded of another Frank classic, his duet with daughter Nancy. That’s right, Somethin’ Stupid.

Stay safe and well, everybody!

Colin Cohen
Senior Partner
Boase Cohen & Collins

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