Hong Kong, 24 February 2021: During lunch with a fellow Formula One enthusiast yesterday, we speculated about when we might next attend a grand prix. My last one was almost a year ago, in Melbourne, when the race was corona-cancelled at a few hours’ notice. The 2021 season stretches out in front of us enticingly. If travel is restored to some sort of normality and fans are allowed at the track, count me in.
In saying this, it appears inevitable travel without quarantine will be dependent upon being vaccinated against Covid-19. As mass inoculation programmes are rolled out worldwide, airlines and governments will soon need to coordinate a broadly cohesive travel policy. And this throws up the question of which vaccines will be deemed acceptable by immigration authorities. You can bet politics will play a part.
Of course, the vaccine grand prix has been underway for months. According to the New York Times’ Coronavirus Vaccine Tracker, researchers are currently testing 71 candidates in clinical trials on humans and 20 have reached the final stages of testing. Just four have been given the chequered flag of approval for full use in certain jurisdictions. These are: the Pfizer-BioNTech shot, currently being used to good effect in Israel and also widely administered in the UK and US; Moderna, approved in Switzerland only but allowed emergency use in several other jurisdictions; and the Chinese candidates from Sinopharm and Sinovac, both approved in China, with the former also approved in the UAE and Bahrain, and both accepted for emergency use in other jurisdictions.
Hong Kong has procured 22.5 million doses, comprising 7.5 million each from Pfizer-BioNTech and Sinovac, with both recommended for use by health authorities here, and 7.5 million from another major vaccine candidate, Oxford-AstraZeneca, which has been accepted for emergency use in the UK, EU and several other jurisdictions but has not yet applied for approval in this city.
The first shots of Sinovac are already being handed out. Our Chief Executive Carrie Lam was first to receive it, in front of massed ranks of media, followed by several of her ministers. It says much about Hong Kong and public trust in our leaders that she was compelled to debunk online rumours claiming the shots they received were not Sinovac ones.
Some 200 frontline health workers and care home staff were then inoculated in a publicity drive to encourage public participation. Mass vaccinations proper, using Sinovac, will commence on Friday, with some 70,000 citizens already signing up. The first batch of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines are expected by the end of this week, while the Oxford-AstraZeneca doses are not due until the middle of this year. The authorities have pledged people will have a choice about which shot to receive. Personally, I have no great preference, I will be guided by travel protocols, but I do urge everyone to get with the programme.
It is to be hoped our city’s dwindling “fourth wave” of infections doesn’t leave people indifferent to having the jab. The health authorities confirmed 12 new coronavirus cases yesterday, having revealed 16 on Monday, meaning our city’s total now stands at 10,896 – spread over the course of more than a year, please remember – with 197 related fatalities. We are told to expect more than 10 new cases today.
The authorities have also resumed their “ambush-style” lockdowns, cordoning off two buildings in San Po Kong district last night for mandatory testing. There were 26 similar lockdowns between 23 January and 10 February before a break for Chinese New Year, the first one producing 13 positive cases from a large-scale action in Yau Tsim Mong, the subsequent 25 operations yielding just eight positives between them. Nevertheless, the government insists these activities are necessary and effective.
One place in Hong Kong that has zero chance of being locked down is Lin Ma Hang, a remote village near the Shenzhen border which, until five years ago, was included in the so-called Frontier Closed Area and therefore inaccessible to non-permit holders. It is no longer off limits but remains difficult to reach, unless you’re a pair of hopelessly lost hikers such as my friend and I were last Saturday. A policeman we encountered there balked at my suggestion he might give us a lift in his patrol car to the nearest bus station, so we proceeded on foot. Our planned four-hour outing took double the time and towards the end we were extremely grateful to a group of young walkers who gave us food and water (we’d run out by that stage) and directions. In return, they have a promise of free legal advice for life.
Back in the concrete jungle of Hong Kong Island, residents living near a busy expressway were treated to a surreal scene on Sunday morning as police intercepted a fleet of 45 luxury sports cars, including Ferraris, Lamborghinis and Porsches, over suspected illegal racing. No one was arrested, although officers are believed to have taken details of the drivers. A district councillor said his constituents had complained about the noise caused by late-night speeding supercars.
Perhaps, after all, I don’t need to fret about which vaccines are best for travel. Why bother with F1 when I have motor racing on my doorstep?
Stay safe and well, everybody!
Boase Cohen & Collins