The year of the Tiger has also ushered
in the fifth wave of COVID in Hong Kong.
Having worked long and hard at maintaining
zero COVID it was perhaps inevitable that at some stage or other it would
creep in and once through the door would take hold very quickly in spite
of the best efforts to contain it.
Just today nearly 5,000 new confirmed cases
are reported and another 7,000 of what they call preliminary positive,
and the experts tell us that these numbers will double every 2 to 3 days.
Although Hong Kong has a vaccination rate
of well over 80% there is one section of the population, the over 80s,
who have been very reluctant but who are now coming out in their droves
for the vaccine so this is kind of a race against the virus if the City
is to protect the more vulnerable.
Beyond just the medical statistics the bigger
question is the effect on Hong Kong as a global financial center.
Hong Kong has labored under one of the most
restrictive quarantine measures in the world.
HK always likes to stand out but this is
one trophy the city might rather not have.
Not only was there a mandatory hotel quarantine
of three weeks on arrival in Hong Kong, now reduced to 2 weeks, but also
for the last couple of months a complete ban on flights from eight countries
including the UK, the U.S. and Australia has been maintained.
Furthermore, flights from any country that
turns up to have had several detected during testing on arrival is then
banned from flights from the originating airport for two weeks.
This as February ends, is leading a lot
of airlines to simply give up on flights to Hong Kong as it's too difficult
to play stop, start stop, start.
And of course it goes without saying that Cathay
Pacific is carrying the biggest burden, for much of last year the cargo
side of things was booming but unfortunately after some breaches of quarantine
arrangements for flightcrew by cargo crews, and with Omicron raging around
the world, the government imposed some fairly dramatic quarantine requirements
on cargo crew, (who had been subject to a lower quarantine requirement)
which is now having a very significant effect with virtually no flights
by Cathay Pacific to Europe as far as I understand. How long this will
be maintained is anybody's guess but there is undoubtedly a massive impact.
Stepping away from the airline industry
there is of course no shortage of negative press reports highlighting
the business challenges faced by various sectors in Hong Kong, including
of course the tourism industry and more recently the food and beverage
industry with a 6 pm closing of all restaurants and bars.
And it is not difficult to find people who
are planning to up stakes and leave Hong Kong claiming they've had enough,
and to be fair I can't blame them, for anybody trying to bring up children
it's been a nightmare of almost 2 years of some form of homeschooling
not to mention of course the inability to easily travel to friends and
relatives around the world. But on the other hand it's also not difficult
to find people who remain very optimistic about the future of Hong Kong
and who see this is just another of those challenges to be overcome and
are in fact taking to heart the Chinese saying that in every crisis there
lies an opportunity. I would have to say I am extremely thankful to neither
be bringing up children nor running a business, and I have every sympathy
for those who are struggling to get by but I think it would be extraordinarily
shortsighted to write off Hong Kong at this stage of the game as all the
fundamentals that make this place so successful remain unchanged. There
are a great many positives for Hong Kong, we have extraordinarily large
financial reserves and live at the centre of Asia when it comes to logistics
and communications something which nobody can take away.
And coming back to the airport I see enormous
expansion projects taking place, the third runway is close to being fully
operational I believe new terminals are under construction, and a massive
Alibaba fulfilment centre is under construction in the cargo area, and
of course behind all this is the integration of Hong Kong into the Greater
Bay Area which incorporates about 70 million people with the GDP roughly
the same as Canada.
What’s not to like about that?