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Red hot pressure and leadership blues

Hong Kong, 27 January 2021: Shortly before we said goodbye and good riddance to 2020, I was involved in an Ally Law video discussion about managing a law firm during a pandemic. What was it like in the BC&C hot seat as we navigated our way through Covid-19? I detailed decisions made with my Partners regarding keeping the office open, ensuring staff health and safety, enhancing our remote working capabilities and communicating effectively with clients.

This week, I’ve had cause to recall that debate as I contemplate the pressures that other – much more high profile – individuals face in these unprecedented times. Take our Chief Executive Carrie Lam, who is trying to roll out an effective mass vaccination programme, meet mainland demands to drastically reduce infection rates, assuage the population’s pandemic fatigue and prevent our economy from going into complete meltdown. Yesterday, she had to face the media and admit her administration was experiencing “hiccups” regarding delivery of the three vaccines it had procured and that she had sought Beijing’s help in securing Covid-19 jabs from a fourth supplier, state-owned Sinopharm.

It means our city’s long-awaited vaccination scheme will be delayed to the end of February at least, and perhaps longer. But doubts remain about the efficacy of Sinopharm’s vaccine, since the company has yet to provide a third round of clinical data to be published in medical journals. In a city as polarised as ours, that makes it a difficult sell indeed.

On this note, I’ve longed argued for better education and clearer communication from our government regarding pandemic issues. An example of how it should be done is Dr David Owens’ latest blog, which includes a link to an excellent podcast with Professor Ben Cowling, Division Head of the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics in the School of Public Health at the University of Hong Kong. Essential reading and listening.

Our Chief Executive has also had to defend the controversial 44-hour lockdown of crowded Yau Tsim Mong district this past weekend, with thousands of residents prevented from leaving while the authorities carried out mandatory testing. More than 3,000 government workers were involved in the operation. Around 7,000 tests were performed, revealing just 13 infections. Some health experts have questioned the cost, consequences and effectiveness of the operation, which saw police officers and health workers in full quarantine gear on patrol as sanitation crews cleaned the streets. There were also criticisms of the food parcels supplied for residents and arrangements made for the elderly and vulnerable.

One flaw in the procedure was that word of it had leaked beforehand, allowing some residents to flee. In hailing the screening exercise as a success, Ms Lam promised other virus-hit parts of the city would be targeted with more localised and shorter “ambush-style” lockdowns – an unfortunate choice of phrase, given that we’re all supposed to be fighting on the same side. True to her word, a neighbourhood in Yau Ma Tei was shut down overnight until 6:00am today while more than 300 residents were tested, revealing at least one positive result. Earlier yesterday, Hong Kong confirmed 64 new Covid-19 infections, taking the city’s total to 10,222 over the course of the past year, with 172 related fatalities. We are told to expect more than 60 new cases today.

If Ms Lam is in the glare of the headlights, so too is Paul Harris SC, who has just succeeded Philip Dykes as Chairman of the Hong Kong Bar Association, the professional organisation of barristers which has some 1,500 practising members, including about 100 Senior Counsel. These are sensitive times and Paul will need to draw on all his considerable experience and acumen in navigating Hong Kong’s complex legal and political landscape. I wish him well.

Of course, these are purely local matters. When it comes to having the weight of the world on your shoulders, look no further than President Joe Biden. Barely a week into his job and his bulging in-tray contains the pandemic, which has so far cost 400,000 American lives and plunged the country into economic misery, the rift between Democrats and Republicans following the US Capitol riots, racial injustice amid Black Lives Matter, the nuclear ambitions of North Korea and Iran, and frosty relations with China. Oh, and Donald Trump’s second impeachment. Over to you, Joe.

But there is one job, above all others, which is nigh-on impossible – manager of Chelsea Football Club. On Monday, club legend Frank Lampard was (unfairly) sacked, the 14th managerial departure since oligarch Roman Abramovich bought my beloved Blues in 2003. All things considered, the hot seat of a Hong Kong law firm is warm enough for me.

Stay safe and well, everybody!

Colin Cohen
Senior Partner
Boase Cohen & Collins

35+ years of legal experience is just a click away.

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