The hammer and sickle effect in Hong Kong

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Hong Kong is on a losing streak. He just lost the 2023 Dragon Boat Racing World Championships to Bangkok. This year’s Hong Kong Open badminton also disappeared and a junior fencing world championship missed the city. Two other major events, the local marathon and the Oxfam walk, have also been cancelled.

SuperReturn Asia, an annual gathering of members of the private equity and venture capital industry, has moved to Singapore.

This is all tied to the Hong Kong government’s Quixotic Covid policies which require visitors to travel to the city. Visitors to the city were first to undergo 21 days of isolation in a hotel room. This period has been reduced over the past two years, but even now arrivals must stay at the hotel for three days and at home for four days.

Despite calls from sports organizers, business groups and even pro-Beijing lawmakers to ease quarantine measures, the Hong Kong government is dithering on the matter.

At a time when the rest of the world is opening its borders and easing restrictions like mandatory face masks, Hong Kong seems to be stuck in the past. Its policies are more designed to reflect the harsh quarantine rules in mainland China than science or available data.

Watch | Hong Kong likely to scrap pre-flight PCR test mandate, changes could come before end of October

It’s quite a downfall for Hong Kong as it was known for its pragmatic approach to health policy and it was the city’s experts who alerted the world to the Sars outbreak in China in 2003, even when the authorities in China kept the others in the dark.

When the Covid pandemic started in Wuhan, it repeated itself again. The city’s vibrant media was quick to report on the events and Hong Kong’s top microbiologists warned of the impending dangers, even when mainland authorities first tried to claim it was was a limited epidemic.

That all changed after Beijing began its crackdown in the city after the 2019 protests and enacted the draconian National Security Law in 2020, which meant criticism of government policies could result in non-releaseable arrest warrants. .

Read also | World’s top dragon boat competition abandons Hong Kong due to Covid restrictions

When a Bloomberg report indicated a split among senior officials over current quarantine policies, Health Secretary Lo Chung-mau blasted the media for its “unprofessionalism” and warned that such reports ” could also affect the government’s fight against the pandemic.” Many health experts are now skirting key issues and there is no political opposition to raise concerns as nearly all the leaders are in jail. Most independent media have also shut down.

The combination of insane Covid policies and drastic restrictions on freedoms is fundamentally changing the city and professionals in almost every sector like health, accounting and media are deserting the city. Popular restaurants are closing as Covid restrictions hit their incomes while hotel owners say thousands of workers will be out of work if borders are not opened soon.

Schools are seeing a steady exodus of students and teachers and Hong Kong’s population has seen the biggest annual decline as local and expat families leave the city in droves.

Beijing’s critics say that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has only one tool – the hammer – to deal with all problems and therefore they see every problem as a nail. The CCP has certainly been using the same lockdown tool to deal with Covid-19 for nearly three years, although the virus has mutated into multiple forms and disease patterns have changed.

Read also | Message to Beijing? Hong Kongers come out in droves for Queen Elizabeth

In Hong Kong, the authorities seem to be using the hammer and sickle to suppress every conceivable form of dissent. A host of trade unions and activist forums have ceased to exist as they fear falling under the new security law. Even street musicians singing songs that were popular during the 2019 protests face the wrath of police and people who come out to lay flowers to mark the dates of major political protests are barred from doing so.

It was against this backdrop that thousands of people lined up outside the British Consulate to pay their respects at the death of Queen Elizabeth.

“When we mourn the Queen, we mourn the lost Hong Kong,” said Cathleen Cheung, 30, a social worker who was among those queuing to pay their respects.

Hong Kong’s fall from a global financial center to an equally ruled Chinese city is relentless. The former British colony was in a tight race with Singapore for the title of Asia’s world city for decades. Despite Singapore’s pristine image, many professionals have chosen Hong Kong as their base, as the city’s freewheeling atmosphere has proven to be a magnet.

But now that race is pretty much over. Singapore is forging ahead in attracting financial conferences and big budget events like the Guns N’ Roses concert while preparing to host the F1 race again. It has removed almost all Covid restrictions and Changi Airport is buzzing with activity. Singapore airport was recently touted as the top in Asia for passenger volume, while Hong Kong didn’t even make the top ten.

“With Hong Kong increasingly linked to mainland China, both economically and politically, Singapore is in a position to further differentiate itself as a controller of its own destiny and as a hub for major international events” said Curtis Chin, former US ambassador to the Asian Development Bank.

Local media are now speculating that Hong Kong may soon scrap mandatory hotel stays and ask visitors to stay home for a week with restrictions on visiting crowded public places. Whether that saves the city is a moot point as many other countries in the region have removed Covid restrictions altogether and are vying to attract visitors.

(Disclaimer: The views of the author do not represent the views of WION or ZMCL. WION or ZMCL also does not endorse the views of the author.)

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