Hong Kong, 4 November 2020: As someone who endured two weeks home quarantine early in the coronavirus pandemic – voluntarily, it should be stressed, I was being a responsible citizen – I can tell you it is no fun at all. Even with all the familiar comforts of my decently sized flat, regular video calls with the office and friends, and plenty of work to keep me occupied, the novelty soon wore off. It became dull, quickly followed by tedious. The time dragged, I grew irritated and began counting down the days. By the end I was practically climbing the walls.
If that’s how it is at home, then imagine the experience in an unfamiliar (and not especially large) hotel room. Maybe you have your laptop and mobile to stay in touch with the outside world. Perhaps the hotel has a wide variety of TV channels, and hopefully the food delivered to your door is of an acceptable standard. Even so, I guarantee that after a couple of days your existence will be purgatory.
Well, this is the joy that awaits all arrivals to Hong Kong – other than those coming from mainland China, Macau and Taiwan – from 13 November. Our government has announced such travellers will need to provide proof of a room reservation in a hotel for two weeks and go straight there. Previously, if they were arriving from a designated low-risk country, they could quarantine at home. And remember, in the vast majority of cases, we are talking about residents returning here, since Hong Kong is mostly closed off to visitors.
This latest development – certain to be unpopular – comes with Covid-19 still firmly under control here. Hong Kong recorded nine new infections on Tuesday, six of them imported, taking the total to 5,345 cases with 105 related deaths. We are told to expect five new cases today.
The authorities say they are tightening quarantine measures due to the worsening coronavirus situation globally. They wish to guard against residents infecting other family members. This would appear bleak news for everyone apart from hotel industry stakeholders who, like anyone relying on tourism for the bulk of their income, have been battered by the pandemic. The average weekend occupancy at Hong Kong hotels in recent months has been 20%.
Perhaps there will be better news for the rest of us arising from our Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s much trumpeted visit to Beijing, which began yesterday. Ms Lam famously postponed her annual policy address last month, saying she needed to attend meetings in the capital to help crystalise her strategy for Hong Kong’s economic resurgence. She says a resumption of cross-border travel between our city and the mainland is the most important issue, while she is also seeking support regarding aviation, financial services, and housing and education – she has just signed an agreement with Guangdong Province making it easier for Hong Kong residents to buy homes and send their children to school there. Of course, the onus is now on her to deliver concrete measures to revive the economy and enhance the livelihoods of her fellow citizens when she finally delivers her policy address later this month.
Another of our Chief Executive’s plans is to amend the election law so that Hong Kong residents living in the mainland can vote in the Legislative Council polls, which she has delayed until next year due to the pandemic. As I have previously mentioned, some 538,000 Hongkongers alone live in neighbouring Guangdong Province and doubtless our government is counting on them to be loyal when ticking the box. The democratic camp here is crying foul, of course. It is believed the authorities have ruled out postal voting – I struggle to see why, in fact it should be an option even for residents living here – and will set up polling stations in Hong Kong government offices. It is also reported there will be little, if any, public consultation on this potentially divisive amendment to the law. Perhaps we have forgotten recent history.
To those of you who have kindly asked, I had a wonderful time at Disneyland last weekend with grandson Nathan. Our excursion included an overnight staycation in the hotel there. One night, fantastic. Two weeks? No thanks.
Stay safe and well, everybody!
Boase Cohen & Collins