Avoiding the maelstrom while learning to live with COVID

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Martin Moodie
Martin Moodie is the Founder & Chairman of The Moodie Report.

It’s almost precisely 22 months since we first referred to a ‘mysterious pneumonia outbreak’ in Wuhan, China, one that had affected 59 people. As I write, it has now directly touched the health of over 250 million people and killed over 5 million of them.

We all know people in the former category and alas many of us knew those in the latter. As I write, two members of my team are suffering from COVID, caught in the maelstrom of the pandemic as it rages once again through the UK, where some 9.3 million people have suffered from the disease and almost 142,000 people have died. And yet all COVID restrictions have been lifted and hospitalisation rates are rising fast again. It is, I fear, going to be a long and difficult winter across the UK and Ireland.

Source: Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University (JHU)

Here in Hong Kong the situation remains very different. The odd locally transmitted case makes the news from time to time but  life is about as close to normal as one could expect in a COVID-shaped world. With one exception of course. The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region’s (HKSAR) strict border and quarantine controls make overseas travel a problematic option with the prospect of a 14-day or (more likely) 21-day hotel quarantine upon return acting as a sure-fire cost and emotional deterrent.

The better news here is that HKSAR and the Beijing authorities are working steadily towards an opening of the border between Hong Kong and the Mainland. Yes, it will be phased and only partial to begin with (being confined to business travel and on a quota system as well as limited in geographic scope) but the news is welcome nonetheless and provides some succour for the thousands of businesses that have been stricken by the lack of Mainland visitors. Travel retailers certainly will be hoping against hope that the prospect becomes reality.

A rare advantage of my advancing years is that I now qualify for a booster shot, so I shall duly head to the nearby Tung Chung Community Hall next Friday for my third shot of the BioNTech vaccination. The government here is very keen to get booster rates up as part of its relentless focus on prising the border with the Mainland open.

Much of the rest of the world, of course, is opening up. It’s not quite the floodgates yet but countries such as Singapore and Australia have taken significant steps towards some semblance of international travel normality in recent weeks. My native country of New Zealand seems set to head in the same direction once vaccination rates are up and the latest Delta variant controlled to a greater degree.

So what does this all spell for travel retail in 2022? It looks to me as China, including Macau and Hong Kong, will stay tightly controlled for a fair while yet, certainly until after the Winter Olympics which close on 20 February. Personally I think strict curbs will remain in place through much of the year but that, as mentioned, we will see eased travel restrictions on an intra-China basis. An intra-China travel bubble as it were. In normal times, Haikou Meilan International Airport is just an 80-minute flight from here and I would dearly love to take it. That’s not possible right now – there are no flights, getting a visa is difficult and anyway you have to do 14 days + 7 quarantine on arrival in the Mainland before heading to the island – so like most I’ll have to sit it out awhile.

But I’m not complaining. For 22 months since that first story about this wretched coronavirus I have remained free from its snare. I wish I could say the same for members of my team and my family. Going forward, a great duty of care – to oneself and to others – remains imperative. ‘Living with COVID’, that increasingly common phrase of our time, is one thing. Catching it is another.

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