Hong Kong, 20 January 2021: Lunar New Year, which will fall on 12 February, always captures Hong Kong in full bloom. It is peak season for florists as swathes of citizens converge on flower markets across the territory, including a huge one in Victoria Park. Amid family gatherings, firecrackers and festivities, there is much joy and goodwill.
Such emotions were in short supply last week, however, when florists stormed out of a meeting with health officials. They accused the government of failing to adequately compensate them for financial losses incurred by its abrupt cancellation of major flower fairs due to Covid-19. But, after the florists flounced out, our government had a change of heart, citing public demand for flowers and preparations made by growers. Health Secretary Sophia Chan duly announced yesterday the big fairs were back on, only with stringent crowd control measures.
So we can say it with flowers, after all, although some sellers are furious about having cancelled their arrangements – literally – and taken whatever compensation was offered, only to be told “as you were”. Given the immense cultural significance of Lunar New Year, plus the need to give virus-weary citizens a lift, I believe this is the correct – albeit belated – decision.
That said, the sight of crowds packing public transport and flooding into the fairs will only heighten the indignation of health and fitness industry figures at the continued closure of gyms and sports venues. I sympathise with them. We need exercise for our physical and mental wellbeing; certainly a healthy population is necessary to fight the virus.
We had a bizarre episode recently when some 50 tennis players and coaches – furious that courts remain off-limits, having already been closed for most of 2020 – converged on Tamar Park for a protest. Complying with social distancing rules which limit public gatherings to two people, they produced their racquets and hit imaginary tennis balls back and forth. Game, set and match to the police, however, who stepped in and dispersed them after warning they risked being fined. But the point had been made. How on earth is it logical to allow crowds into shopping malls, for example, but not let two people share a tennis court?
Logic was also lacking on Monday when a senior health official singled out the cultural habits and behaviour of ethnic minorities for a surge in Covid-19 cases in Yau Tsim Mong. The crowded district is populated by many of South Asian descent, especially Nepalese and Indians, with large numbers living in cramped, sub-divided flats in old tenement buildings. Our Chief Executive Carrie Lam receives plenty of stick, so let’s give her credit for her swift and unequivocal response: “There is absolutely no suggestion of the spread of disease relating to race or ethnicity,” she told media.
But what Carrie didn’t go on to say is that sub-divided flats and their slightly less odious cousin, nano flats – prime locations for the spread of contagious diseases – are a direct result of serial failure by both her government and previous administrations to properly tackle our desperate housing shortage. Ditto urgent issues regarding social welfare, healthcare and education. Hong Kong remains one of the richest yet most unequal cities in the world.
The Chief Executive also confirmed the current strict social distancing regulations – including a ban on dine-in services at restaurants after 6:00pm – would continue for at least another week. Meanwhile, health authorities have ordered mandatory Covid-19 testing for residents of around 70 buildings in Yau Tsim Mong. The district accounted for 31 out of 56 new infections yesterday, taking the city’s overall tally to 9,720 cases with 166 related fatalities. We are told to expect more than 70 new cases today.
With a nod to our limited restaurant hours, I was looking forward to a catch-up breakfast or lunch with old acquaintance David Perry QC, due to fly in from London next month to lead the prosecution of nine prominent opposition figures on charges of unauthorised assembly. Sadly, it won’t happen. David’s acceptance of the case caused quite a kerfuffle, with British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab labelling him – wholly unfairly, in my view – a “mercenary” and describing his hiring as a “serious PR coup” for Beijing. David has now stepped down, citing pressures and quarantine issues. I will simply reiterate my belief that our justice system benefits from the presence of experienced overseas counsel, no matter whether they are accepting instructions on behalf of the prosecution or defence.
Finishing on a positive note, it was a pleasure for myself and three of my fellow Partners at BC&C to stand before the Honourable Madam Justice Maria Yuen, Justice of Appeal, in the High Court on Saturday morning and move the admitting of five young members of our legal team as Solicitors in Hong Kong. Congratulations to Joyce Leung, April Kong, Vivian Yu, Hugo Sze-To and Mandy Tsang, all of whom have a bright future in the legal profession. Everyone had bouquets of course, so it was a happy occasion, as well, for our frustrated florists.
Stay safe and well, everybody!
Boase Cohen & Collins