London, 30 June 2021: “Football is a simple game – 22 men chase a ball for 90 minutes and at the end, the Germans always win.” Decades of hurt neatly summarised by England legend Gary Lineker after a particularly painful defeat in 1990, showing a turn of phrase that would pave the way for his second career as a TV sports presenter.
But not this time, Gary, NOT THIS TIME! I pen this column from my London hotel having thoroughly enjoyed my first live match of Euro 2020 last night, watching England defeat Germany in a knockout game at a major tournament for the first time in 55 years. And before you ask … yes, the 12-hour flight from Hong Kong, the multiple Covid-19 tests and the five-day hotel quarantine were all worth it to be present for such a momentous occasion. (As for my return trip to Hong Kong, more of that later.)
Of course, we haven’t won anything yet and England, being England, can be relied upon to let you down. A dogged and durable Ukraine team await in Saturday’s quarter-final in Rome and it would be totally in keeping with our national team’s character for it to go pear-shaped. England fans have seen it too many times before. To paraphrase comedian John Cleese in his movie Clockwise, “We can take the despair, it’s the hope we can’t stand.”
There were 40,000 spectators at Wembley last night – that’s 39,996 more than are allowed to gather together in public in Hong Kong. Chief Executive Carrie Lam insists the strict limit is to prevent the spread of coronavirus, her critics speculate it might – just might – be a measure to curb anti-government protests. Not that the authorities are taking any chances, with today marking exactly one year since the national security law was implemented and tomorrow being a public holiday for the 24th anniversary of our city’s return to Chinese rule. It is reported some 10,000 police officers are to be deployed, water cannons and armoured vehicles will be on standby, and that the force is even considering closing Victoria Park, the traditional gathering venue for demonstrators.
If this appears over the top, it should be noted that tensions are running high. Anti-government newspaper Apple Daily was forced to close down last week after the authorities froze HK$18 million (US$2.3 million) of its assets and several of its top executives were arrested in a police raid. On Sunday, the paper’s editorial writer was detained at Hong Kong’s airport as he attempted to leave for the UK. In addition, a high-profile cabinet reshuffle underlined the government’s tough line on dissent and dismayed some critics. Security Minister John Lee – a former Deputy Police Commissioner – was promoted to Chief Secretary (the city’s No.2) while Police Commissioner Chris Tang stepped into his shoes at the Security Bureau. Both men had key roles in combating the 2019 protests.
The fuss will surely have died down by the time I return to Hong Kong, but who knows for sure when this will be? On Monday, our leaders announced a new ban on direct flights from Britain effective from tomorrow. No one – not even fully inoculated residents such as myself – will be allowed entry if they have been in the UK for more than two hours in the previous 21 days. In the space of one week, our government has had four different policies for the quarantine of arrivals from Britain – firstly 14 days, then seven with a positive antibodies test, then back up to 21, now a flight ban. Even for an administration with a rich history of U-turns, this is flip-flopping par excellence.
The latest draconian measures are in reaction to the Delta variant of the coronavirus that is spreading rapidly through North America and Europe, particularly the UK. It is more transmissible than previous variants and could have a serious impact on Hong Kong due to our city’s disappointingly low vaccination uptake. But, as we have observed continuously these past 18 months, wild rumours, lurid headlines and social media tittle-tattle only serve to amplify and distort when we should be listening to science. In his latest blog, Dr David Owens explains all you need to know about the Delta variant in typically calm and collected manner. Please read.
Robust quarantine regulations, strict social distancing rules and mandatory mask wearing all mean Hong Kong is sticking rigidly to its “zero Covid” policy at the expense of mitigation, opening borders and a clear exit strategy. Health officials confirmed just one imported infection yesterday, taking the cumulative total to 11,921, with 211 related fatalities. Our city has not seen any locally transmitted cases for 22 days.
Of course, the people at the sharp end of quarantine revisions are travellers. It’s the uncertainty that is most irritating. Monday’s announcement left Hong Kong residents in the UK with three options – jump on a plane ASAP, postpone their return indefinitely, or find a third country in which to stay for three weeks. For me, the latter makes sense and Switzerland is looking good, but this planned diversion is still some way off and much can change. Perhaps Carrie likes football and has been watching Euro 2020. How else to explain why she keeps moving the goalposts?
Stay safe and well, everybody!
Boase Cohen & Collins