If we make it through December
Everything’s gonna be alright I know
It’s the coldest time of winter
And I shiver when I see the falling snow – Merle Haggard, If we make it through December
Just 24 days to go until the end of 2020. I suspect that many of you are counting too. Recession or not, I reckon global consumption of Champagne on New Year’s Eve is going to hit record levels, so overjoyed and damned relieved will we all be about this annus horribilis drawing to an end.
I’ll close out the year still hunkered down in my Interim Hong Kong Bureau, though not half as hunkered down as I would have been had I remained in the UK. And certainly, despite a decent blast of wind chill whipping off Victoria Harbour the past few days, there will be no chance of snow.
Google COVID-19 vaccine and you’ll get around 617,000,000 results in 0.57 seconds. Plenty of people are doing just that as the world – or chunks of it – await the mass roll-out of various vaccines on top of those already being deployed in China, Russia and elsewhere.
Those vaccines offer hope to everyone in the aviation, tourism and travel retail sectors that better days lie around the corner. Just how wide that corner will be is the question. Outside of the hot spots of Hainan, Jeju and (increasingly and encouragingly) Macau, the first half of 2021 is already shaping as the commercial equivalent of a long drawn-out winter.
All sectors are feeling the pain, none perhaps more than the Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions (MICE) industry. Powerful, long-established events set to return in 2021 such as ISM and ProSweets Cologne (confectionery) and ProWein (wines & spirits) have been cancelled in recent days and there will be many more. TFWA has moved its annual Asia Pacific show from Singapore to Hainan for May but realistically that is highly likely to be a virtual and not physical event such are the constraints on a) budgets and b) travel into Hainan at present.
ASUTIL and IAADFS have combined forces with The Moodie Davitt Report to make their annual Summit of the Americas in April virtual. That indeed does seem the commonest path ahead until a combination of international vaccine roll-out, bilateral travel and testing agreements, and improved economic circumstances dictate otherwise.
Publishing won’t be any easier. Advertising revenue, which is traditionally low-hanging fruit in terms of crisis-related cost-cutting, has been in freefall through 2020 and a very sparce crop is certain in 2021. That thought tends to occupy my aging grey matter these days, especially during those insomnia-riddled moments in the wee small hours when prospects tend to look as dark as the night outside.
Daybreak inevitably brings clarity in every sense, however, and I’m confident that by focusing on quality content, remaining relevant and continuing our diversification path, we’ll emerge from this crisis battered and bruised but with company intact and reputation enhanced.
Here in Hong Kong, the so-called ‘fourth wave’ is well under way with another 95 COVID-19 cases reported Sunday – 87 of them locally transmitted and 36 untraceable. It’s worrying but any crisis pales compared to what’s happening in much of the world.
My staple early morning reading of the BBC and CNN websites brings with it images that locals here find almost impossible to comprehend. Images of huge unmasked crowds as the lunatic Trump rages into the night against attaining the status in life he despises more than any other, loser. This in a country that reported 1 million COVID-19 cases in the first five days of December, and 2,254 deaths on Saturday alone.
Images of police having to disperse people outside Harrods in London as hundreds of Christmas shoppers try to get into the famed department store. Images of a Christmas market in Nottingham, England, being shut down due to a lack of social distancing.
We can blame politicians all we like for their lack of direction (Boris Johnson) or their crass misdirection (Trump) but it is we the people, to quote the opening words to the US constitution, who must ultimately take the blame. Social media runs riot each and every day with infantile and outright dangerous claims that mask-wearing is an affront to personal freedom and that vaccines should be shunned. Yes, such views are fanned by leaders like Trump but ultimately we make choices. And too often they are stupid ones.
Vaccines will not be an overnight panacea. Their roll-out globally will be patchwork and often slow and anyway you can’t inject to ward off stupidity. Even in Hong Kong, inoculation of the entire population may not be possible until 2022, the South China Morning Post reported yesterday. But in time they will bring a kind of normality, a world where we can mix more freely, travel more easily, and look forward more optimistically.
Day has broken during the course of my writing this Blog. Victoria Harbour is now cloaked in haze rather than in darkness. Another December day is underway as the countdown to the end of this awful year continues.
Footnote: Amid all the gloom, the pandemic has also brought with it many rays of light. Two in particular stood out over recent days.
1) The Wallabies, Australia’s rugby team, sang the Australian national anthem in both the indigenous Eora language and English ahead of the Tri Nations Test against Argentina in Sydney on Saturday. Wiradjuri woman Olivia Fox led the Eora rendition. It was a beautiful moment, a musical and lyrical full-stop to a country’s racism-blighted past and a bridge to a more tolerant, inclusive future.
I don’t know what is more moving, the goose-bumps creating moment when Ms Fox starts to sing or the sight of a mixed-race squad of rugby players lustily singing the Eora lyrics that they had each taken the time to learn so perfectly. For the first time perhaps in this proud Kiwi’s life, I wanted to shout, C’mon Aussie, come on.
2) An Indian schoolteacher, Ranjitsinh Disale, was awarded the US$1 million 2020 Global Teacher Prize and promptly vowed to give half of it away to the nine runners-up to recognise their dedication to teaching. The award, which is run by the Varkey Foundation in partnership with UNESCO celebrates exceptional teachers. Disale, a teacher at Zilla Parishad Primary School, in the western Indian state of Maharashtra, was chosen ahead of more than 12,000 nominations from over 140 countries.