Untagged in Hong Kong as the space race heats up

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

I see my light come shining
From the west down to the east
Any day now, any day now
I shall be released – I shall be released, Bob Dylan

In fact, I have been released. My 14-day quarantine in Hong Kong is over and today – in between monsoon-like showers – I experienced the immense pleasure of a long early-morning walk along the seafront in Tung Chung.

Besides my new-found freedom, I had plenty to mull. As I have written frequently, travel retail’s recovery from the trauma of COVID-19 is going to be stuttering, sporadic and selective. Three steps forward; one, two or even sometimes three back.

Tagged no more: But what a brilliantly effective tracking system Hong Kong has adopted

The last day or so has typified that pattern. Really encouraging news from Macau with the Individual Visit Scheme (IVS) being partly resumed from today (with a full resumption on the cards), a development that hopefully marks the revival of the gaming sector, so vital to travel retail’s fortunes in the Special Administrative Region (SAR).

But dispiriting news from my home country of New Zealand, which yesterday posted its first locally transmitted cases in over 100 days (with another four suspected cases reported today) and from my adopted land of the UK, which posted 1,148 new cases on Tuesday, the highest daily total since 21 June.

Watching the breaking news from New Zealand at The Moodie Davitt Report Interim Tung Chung Bureau. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern delivered the news of the Auckland lockdown at a morning press conference broadcast nationwide. (Live Stream: Stuff.co.nz)

More of the same from France, where on Monday the Health Ministry revealed that 10,800 new coronavirus cases had been recorded in the previous week. Incredibly, more than 10,000 people attended an illegal rave in the remote mountain area of Lozere in southern France at the weekend. As I cut off my tag this morning to mark the end of my quarantine, I was thankful for being in a location where this disease is taken for what it is, a virulent menace and a killer and where such activity would be unthinkable even if it was permissable.

Similarly in Spain, authorities say the country has once again reached a critical situation with the worst infection rate in Europe. And America… well, what more can one say about this great nation rendered near impotent by a delusionist whose visage belongs no more on Mount Rushmore than Al Capone’s?

However, three steps forward and two steps back is still a net gain of one and that’s the thought we must keep holding onto as slowly, slowly, the world starts to travel when it can, where it can.  The almost forced acceleration of omnichannel retailing is paying rich dividends in China with China Duty Free Group, and promising ones in Singapore and Malaysia with KrisShop.com and Malaysia Airlines’ Temptations e-retail platform (both involving Miami-based 3Sixty Duty Free as a partner). Big sales volumes are being generated out of Hainan (a much-needed windfall for the spirits & wine business) and South Korea’s daigou sector continues to be surprisingly resilient and supremely creative.

As mentioned, I’m happy to be in Asia where it is hard to resist the feeling that a combination of sensible, often strict government and great civic awareness and responsibility leave much of the region much better positioned than the west for recovery from this crisis.

Let’s not forget either that rapid progress is being made in developing treatments and vaccines. Yesterday Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that the country has developed and approved a coronavirus vaccine (dubbed Sputnik-V) that is already approved for use after two months of testing on humans. Having tried it on his daughter, President Putin seems pretty confident, though his claim was met with much scepticism elsewhere.

Although Sputnik-V has yet to complete a critical phase-three larger study, Russian Health Minister Mikhail Murashko described it this week as “highly effective and safe” and said it was a big step towards “humankind’s victory” over COVID-19.

History and linguistic students will recall the inspiration for the vaccine’s name – Sputnik is the Russian word for satellite. The choice of name is apt, for many have likened the search for a vaccine to the space race contested by the Soviet Union and the US during the Cold War. While the 2020 version of the Cold War involves a new protagonist – China rather than Russia v the US – the vaccine race bears many of the same characteristics as its predecessor. And frankly I don’t care who wins, as long as someone does.