Stay with me till the end; you’re going to love this one.…

Since the beginning of the pandemic, Hong Kong has been doing extremely well in terms of minimizing the numbers of new Covid cases, sick people, and deaths. For Hong Kong government there is no “We will live with the virus”, and instead they went for a “zero Covid strategy”. And things went pretty well until the beginning of 2022 as in the two years since Covid became a pandemic, Hong Kong has only suffered less than two hundred and twenty deaths in a population of almost eight million. The territory could literally go months in a row without generating a single positive cases. I’m not talking about sick people or death; I’m purely talking about polymerase chain reaction (PCR) Covid tests! Respect to the Hong Kong government and, of course, to the Hong Kong people for this accomplishment.

Do I believe these small numbers? Let’s say that Hong Kong is a very small bubble and keeping secret much higher numbers would be very difficult. And even if the numbers were 10 times higher, Hong Kong would still be in the top 3 countries in the world with the best results.

To achieve these spectacular results, Hong Kong has been totally closed to tourists, and only residents have been able to leave and reenter the territory. Depending on the country they return from, the travelers have been required to quarantine for either 14 or 21 days in one of a large variety of quarantine-specific hotels designated by the government. The travelers have been required to cover their own quarantine costs, but, fortunately for them, the options range from cheap to very luxurious hotels.

Over the past two years and depending on the number of cases detected, the government has fine-tuned life in the territory by regulating whether or not bars, restaurants, gyms, cinemas, public spaces, etc. can be fully open, closed, or allowed to operate during specific hours. Sometimes, no more than 2 or 4 people per table have been allowed in a restaurant; other times, the restriction has been loosened to 8. Sometimes, restaurants have had to close at 6pm. Needless to say, masks have been mandatory in all public spaces and outside. Now, you can do whatever you want in your home or office.

Sometimes, when the number of daily cases suddenly jumped to 2 or 3 times higher than the previous day, the government was literally in a panic. In reality, the number of positive cases (not of sick or dying people) would just increase from 2 to 4 cases out of almost 8 million people. In terms of percentage, however, 200% or 400% is a lot, so all the media platforms were making big headlines out of this. During this time, the Hong Kong people were very disciplined and, since there were very few cases if any at all, did not feel pressured to get a vaccine.

 

Penny’s Bay Quarantine Center.

In addition to offering designated quarantine hotels, the government built a big “Quarantine Centre” in Penny’s Bay with over three thousand individual rooms. Oddly enough, the Quarantine Centre is just a few hundred meters from Disney Land, and there is plenty of unused land around it which could be used for making the Quarantine Centre 3 or maybe 4 time bigger if needed in the future. Hong Kong Disney Land is known to be the smallest Disney resort in the world, so it’s possible this unused land was being saved for a future extension of the theme park. For the moment, however, it’s a Quarantine Centre that looks more like a military barrack or a very cheap but clean hotel. Living conditions there could always be better, but it’s not terrible considering the flowers, seaside and mountain view. Now, Hong Kong is a rich territory, and the Hong Kong people are used to very high standards. That being said, the Penny’s Bay Quarantine Centre is a horrible nightmare for them. To me, a French guy, the Penny’s Bay Quarantine Centre resembles a cheap hotel like those found all over France—a seemingly poor country when placed in comparison with Hong Kong. Penny’s Bay Quarantine Centre is for anyone in Hong Kong who tests positive (without symptoms) as well as the people who have returned to Hong Kong from the countries rated as having a very high inherent risk for spreading Covid. This list of countries often changes overnight. So, depending on where you travel from, you can either quarantine in a hotel at your own cost or for free in the Penny’s Bay Quarantine Centre.

 

Photo Dickson Lee

Asia World Expo hospital for recovering patients

Recently, the government converted a huge hall from Asia World Expo (AWE) convention centre just near the airport into a hospital for recovering patients. Even though it looks clean and tidy, this is not a fun place to stay. I’ll let these pictures speak for me, but to put it in perspective, this is even worse than the worst nightmare from the worst horror movie to the Hong Kong people. Even I would absolutely not want to spend time there.

 

The Leave Home Safe mobile app.

In the middle of 2021, every Hong Kong resident had to install an app called “Leave Home Safe” on our mobile phones and were instructed to scan a QR code every time we enter somewhere. The app has been used to notify people who have gone into the same place at the same time with someone who tested positive so they can go to get a test. As there were almost no cases at all in the region for months, no one really had any problems with the app and didn’t worry about receiving any notifications. Even though the city was covered in QR codes, only bars, restaurants, gyms, and government buildings really asked people to scan before entering; people rarely scanned the available QR codes before entering supermarkets, malls, or parks. The social contract between the Hong Kong government and its people was the following: We practically closed the territory and can trace you with the Leave Home Safe app, the economy will certainly be severely impacted, but, in return, you can enjoy an almost normal life with very low chances of contracting Covid. That said, everyone who could fly away from Hong Kong did so and for the first time in history, Hong Kong saw its local population decrease.

Even if lots of restaurants, gyms, and other small businesses have been badly impacted by the lack of tourists and the restrictions on their opening hours and numbers of people allowed inside, I have to admit that, as an unvaccinated French migrant living in Hong Kong, life was quite good and even better than in my home country. In France, you haven’t been able to enter a restaurant if you have not been vaccinated for months now; in Hong Kong, however, it has been possible to go anywhere and have quite a “normal” life even without a vaccine passport.

Hong Kong is a very attractive city for tourists, but the main source of financial growth comes from Hong Kong businesses. Not allowing outsiders to enter Hong Kong to visit business partners or having to spend 21 days in quarantine after coming back from a business trip, even if it’s a 5-star hotel, has also badly impacted Hong Kong’s financial sphere. Many companies are leaving the city and relocating in Singapore, and many expats are also living in Hong Kong, not knowing when the situation will go back to “normalcy.”

If things continue like this with its best talent flying away, Hong Kong might turn from a powerful financial hub to a seaside resort for Chinese tourists and Chinese retired people.

And it gets even worse for a country like France or USA which, as today, in terms of Covid risks, is rated very bad by the Hong Kong government. For example, if you want to return to Hong Kong from France or USA, you have to spend 2 to 3 weeks in a better-rated country to “wash yourself out” then spend another 2 to 3 weeks in quarantine once you return.… This situation makes it very difficult to travel, especially knowing that a country you are staying in to washout can become very bad overnight. In terms of traveling, it’s a pure nightmare: Many people and separated families are stuck for months outside Hong Kong, trying to figure out the best strategy to return. As a result, I don’t want to take the risk of leaving Hong Kong even though I haven’t seen my family in 2 years. But it was okay since life in Hong Kong was better for a non-vaccinated guy like me than it would have been in France, so I will absolutely not complain, as I love Hong Kong.

 

But all is about to change.…

At the end of 2021, the Hong Kong government started to put more pressure on people to get the vaccine. We heard rumors that, one day or another, it will no longer be possible to enter a restaurant without a vaccine passport which would be integrated in the Leave Home Safe mobile app. As a result of this rumor, more and more people went to get the vaccine. You have to understand that people here love to go to restaurants; it’s literally part of Hong Kong culture. Then, in the beginning of January 2022, just one month before Chinese New Year celebrations, the government officially confirmed the rumor that it will be impossible to enter a restaurant without a vaccine passport. Panic spread throughout the city because it seemed impossible to get everyone vaccinated in such a short period of time. People were cancelling Chinese New Year celebration reservations in hotels and restaurants all over the city. Because of the panic, the date for enforcing vaccine passports was delayed until to February 24th.

February 24th 2022…

Beginning on February 24th, all unvaccinated people—myself included—will be banned from most places in Hong Kong. This list of places includes bars, restaurants, cinemas, hotels, and gyms, of course, but also all government buildings, shopping malls, and even supermarkets. Can you believe it? Even supermarkets! Hopefully, there will be a lot of small fruit and vegetable stands on the streets, lots of takeout options, and lots of small convenient stores like 7/11 that will not be under restriction. For me, it’s just a question of organization. To be honest, I was expecting this to happen for a long time, so I have been preparing for almost a year by storing lots of essential goods.

For the past year, I’ve been very proud to tell my family and friends that, in Hong Kong—a region under Chinese rule—I have experienced more freedom than in France, the birthplace of the Declaration of Human Rights! Hong Kong finally reached the standards of countries like France and banned unvaccinated people from entering restaurants. I never imagined that I would one day say something like that.…

 

Then Omicron hit Hong Kong in February 2022, and things have been going crazy.

Remember when I told you that Hong Kong used to have very few positive PCR tests per month? Now, with Omicron spreading like crazy, we have unprecedented numbers of positive PCR tests. In one day, we had more positive PCR results than in the previous year. Still, no one has been reported as dead from Omicron, but the government is still trying to stick to the “Zero Covid Strategy”. The maximum capacities of Hong Kong hospitals and Penny’s Bay quarantine center are now almost reached as everyone who tested positive was sent there. It is said that sometime soon, asymptomatic people will do self-quarantine at home instead of going to hospital or quarantine center. There is a massive campaign for testing, and the more you test, the more you find. This combined with the Leave Home Safe app tracing everyone, Omicron spreading like crazy, and many people being exposed to confirmed cases, everyone has been receiving notifications to get tested. As a result, there is sometimes a 3-, 5-, or even 7-hour queue to get tested. If you don’t go for the test after receiving a notification in your app, you’ll be fined $500-1000USD.

The whole story that has been sold to people was that if you have the vaccine, you’ll be free to go anywhere you want using the Leave home Safe app. But now the app became the worst nightmare for all vaccinated people as it is fighting back against them, sending everyone to wait for hours into testing center and possibly end up to a quarantine center…  Hong Kong seems to be falling into an endless spiral.

In prevision of reaching very soon the capacities limits of the system deployed by the government, there are some discussions with China to open a facility in Shenzhen which is just a few miles away from Hong Kong. And that my friend is a no go for any Hong Kong citizen as we all saw the images and living conditions of what Covid camps looks like in Mainland China. As soon as this story hits the news, another wave of people has left Hong Kong.

 

In conclusion:

From what I understand, if you have the vaccine passport, you can go anywhere you want. But, every time you use the Leave Home Safe app, you live with the fear of a possible notification practically forcing you to spend 3+ hours in the queue of a testing centre and ultimately going to Penny’s Bay Quarantine Centre or somewhere in a Chinese camp if you test positive. With Omicron, knowing its volatility, there is a high chance of testing positive. It’s a Russian roulette with half of the barrel loaded.

Omicron is spreading like crazy and is absolutely unstoppable, meaning that with the massive testing campaign we may soon have tens of thousands of new cases per day. As a result, even vaccinated people will not take the risks of using their Leave Home Safe apps and going anywhere.

After Feb 24, unvaccinated people will not be allowed to go anywhere, so there will be no need to use the Leave Home Safe app anymore, minimizing the risk of receiving a notification. Unvaccinated people are ready and have been prepared for a long time to literally disappear from the radar while vaccinated people will be totally traceable every time they go to a restaurant, a supermarket, or a shopping mall.

In a few days, when Omicron will hit its max, even people with vaccine passports will not dare to go anywhere because of the fear of receiving a notification. This means that even if everything is open, there will be no one to dare going in restaurants, bars, gyms, shopping malls, etc. The vaccinated and the unvaccinated alike will have the same miserable life: ordering groceries and food online, avoiding using Leave Home Safe at all costs, paying everything cash because or course electronic payment leave traces and working from home as much as they can. What will be the benefit of being vaccinated in this context? Not much if you are young and in good health.

As a totally unexpected side effect, the Leave Home Safe app that was supposed to divide people between vaccinated and non-vaccinated will do the opposite and might get everyone united against it.

It is impossible for the government to ignore that Omicron is unstoppable, will spread like crazy, and will create millions of positive PCR tests. I wonder what they have in mind because Omicron is not compatible with a “Zero Covid Strategy” unless you totally lockdown the entire city for months. The near future will be very interesting.

 

By the way, this is not a pro or con vaccine and absolutely not about pro or anti-government rules. Everyone will do what they have to do, and everyone have to follow the government rules. I’m just trying to predict that in a few days, and because of the fear of using the Leave Home Safe app, people will just organize themselves and voluntary self-quarantine until the number of cases reaching an acceptable number for the government. Its challenging for people to understand and comply with a Zero Covid Strategy knowing Omicron variant will by design spread everywhere and seems to be quite mild compared to the other ones. I’m sure that if this variant was as deadly as the one before, people would comply with no questions at all. Please take care and do not take any risks.

Love you all…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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