A measure of how abnormal things currently are in Hong Kong:
The closed off Airport Express check-in area at Kowloon MTR station
The big news this morning in this part of the world was that Singapore had overtaken Hong Kong to become Asia's top financial centre - and the third in the world after moving up three places -- according to a new Global Financial Centres Index report that puts New York and London in the first and second spots. As per a Bloomberg report (which has appeared on other news media sites, including Singapore's Straits Times), this was not least because "Hong Kong is struggling to revive its role as a global finance hub as it continues to follow China's lead in trying to keep Covid-19 cases to a minimum, while the rest of the world opens up."
Seemingly as a direct reaction to this news, word soon came that Hong Kong's Chief Executive, John Lee, would be holding a press conference at 3.30pm today and there were hopes hat he would make the sort of announcement that the Japanese government made just yesterday: i.e., that the country would be dropping all restrictions on tourism effective October 11th. And by drop, I mean: the dropping of quotas for travellers; the reinstatement of visa-free travel (for those people for which this had applied pre-pandemic); the dropping of Covid testing requirements (which, actually, is already the case for those who have been triply vaccinated); there being no quarantine requirements for arrivals to the country; and, also, there no longer being requirements to use the country's (unpopular) trac(k)ing app.
As it turned out, John Lee did make an announcement that appeared aimed at the easing of travel into Hong Kong. The problem though is that it's really won't be enough to satisfy many people, including most international tourists of the sort that used to come to Hong Kong pre-pandemic (i.e., those who liked to spend a few days in Hong Kong as part of an Asian vacation that often would also include visits to at least one other city and/or tourist destination on the continent).
More specifically, it was announced that Hong Kong will axe its hotel quarantine requirement for inbound travellers from September 26th (next Monday) but -- and this really is a big but here -- inbound travellers still will have to undergo three days of “medical surveillance” at home or at a hotel, during which they will be allowed to go out, subject to PCR requirements, but not be allowed into restaurants, bars, cinemas, museums, performing arts venues, gyms and a host of other places. Oh, and arrivals into the city also are expected to take four PCR tests in their first week in the city; and if a test is positive, it'll be off to a Community Isolation Facility one will have to go!
Contrast this to Singapore which, like much of the rest of the world, has considerably fewer Covid restrictions and regulations in place. Oh, and there remains an outdoor as well as indoor (bar for when you are eating or drinking) mask requirement in place in Hong Kong -- something which many Hong Kongers are okay with but many non Hong Kongers would not be. And don't forget such as the required use of the hated LeaveHomeSafe trac(k)ing app, and a ban on public gatherings of more than eight people.
With regards to the latter: Today also saw 14 student union members of the City University of Hong Kong getting fined a total of HK$98,000 (HK$7,000 each) for “breaching [the C]ovid public gathering rule” on February 14th of this year when they took a farewell group photo in front of the university's Democracy Wall. As more than one person has generally observed, and one person did state about this particular action: In Hong Kong, "Covid rule[s are] used as a weapon of political clampdown".
When will we see the end of the public gathering ban that's contrary to Article 27 of the Basic Law (i.e., "Hong Kong residents shall have freedom of speech, of the press and of publication; freedom of association, of assembly, of procession and of demonstration; and the right and freedom to form and join trade unions, and to strike")? Who knows -- and I have a feeling this will be the last Covid restriction/regulation to go.
What we know though is this: Today, Hong Kong (finally announced that it would end) 644 days of required centralised hotel quarantine and 922 days of required quarantine in some form of facility for arrivals to the city; "despite the fact that for the past 200 days, or so, we have had sustained community transmission of Covid", as public health professor Karen Grepin noted. Or as one Hong Kong Twitter wag put it: "The self-styled “world city” has effectively been closed for 922 days".
Cue celebrations from some circles and a rush to book flights to leave Hong Kong to do such as visit family and friends living abroad, or just go on holiday. Truly, it doesn't seem to take much for some people to feel happy, ecstatic even. Witness Danny Lee, an aviation reporter with Bloomberg, Tweeting the following: "With air travel restarting in Hong Kong: WHEN WILL IN-TOWN CHECK-IN RESUME! WHEN! Then I will count this as normalised"!
In contrast, Kevin Carrico had this position: "Sounds like HK gov finally scrapping ridiculous quarantine but I could not care less. Scrap the ridiculous National Security Law to regain your appeal and dignity as a city"! And no prizes for guessing which opinion I am more in line with!
I've also got time for this statement by Aaron Busch: "Time for Debbie Downer to appear. Ending mandatory quarantine is the tip of the iceberg; we still have pseudo-vaccine mandates, mask mandates, closures of public facilities, isolation orders, CTNs..." And Busch it was who also pointed out that the "Hospital Authority just dumped another 153 COVID-19 deaths into the system from February to April" today, making it so tha the total number of Covid deaths in Hong Kong is now over 10,000 -- 10,099, to be specific, as of today.
I'll end today's blog post by sharing Dr David Owens' definition of a malady he's christened "Hong Kong syndrome": "A psychological response characterised by progressive desensitisation to damaging public health regulations Presents with irrational euphoria in response to potential relaxation of restricted civil rights regardless of ongoing harm to the young + vulnerable". And yes, he is of the opinion that there are many in Hong Kong afflicted with it, and who presented symptoms today!