Last week’s lifting of the mask mandate brought a palpable and collective sigh of relief that is still reverberating through the community. After almost three years, its removal was the signal we needed to confirm that our lives can begin to get back to normal, or at least the new normal. Economic recovery is definitely in sight.
The timely news coincided with a host of world-class international events in Hong Kong this month alone, which will support economic recovery and stimulate growth.
Since the announcement, a significant number of people have clearly chosen to continue to wear masks, not only in crowded indoor locations but also on the street and in the countryside. This reflects the fears of those most vulnerable but also suggests an understanding that, in certain circumstances, wearing a mask can prevent the spread of infection. For some people, it is simply a sign of consideration, and in Japanese society, it has been commonplace since the 1918 Spanish flu.
I was made acutely aware of this on a recent trip to Tokyo where masks were not mandatory. Early one morning, as I was going to use my hotel gym, I was told politely but firmly that I needed to wear a mask if I wished to enter, which of course I did.
That same afternoon, I saw a tourist denied access to a shopping boutique in Ginza – she did not have a mask on her. Clearly, attitudes differ according to customs, or in our case, past experience. The stance taken in Europe or the United States, for example, is very different.
There is much to be optimistic about. March has historically been one of our most active months, with an array of business, cultural and sporting events, many of which are the envy of the region.
The busy programme will help restore confidence and signal to the international community that the days of Covid-19 restrictions are over. The return of international visitors is a key economic driver and will help us regain our title as “Asia’s world city”.
Last weekend began brilliantly with the Clockenflap music and arts festival. After an absence of almost five years, the event was a monumental success. Good weather and a great line-up of artists resulted in a sell-out crowd. We also had the Hong Kong International Jewellery Show while the Hong Kong Flower Show begins today.
We are more than halfway through the 51st Hong Kong Arts Festival, and the Hong Kong International Literary Festival is under way. M+ is hosting “Yayoi Kusama: 1945 to Now” featuring over 200 works by the international cultural icon, the largest retrospective exhibition of her work outside Japan.
We have the 16th Asian Film Awards, Hong Kong International Film Festival and Art Central to look forward to. Two of the most high-profile events on our calendar are Art Basel Hong Kong and the Hong Kong Sevens, Asia’s premier rugby tournament.
The Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra and Hong Kong Ballet are running exciting programmes. There are many more events and activities on offer ranging from “A Symphony of Lights” across Victoria Harbour to horse racing.
All of this is excellent news and bodes well, but we will never lose sight of how horribly difficult and stressful life has been for everyone, and how most families have a personal tale of loss or suffering. We have also experienced major shifts in how we lead our lives and conduct business, and these will remain with us and in some ways define our future.
But it is also very important that we re-engage with our old cohort of regular travellers, many of whom had been coming here for years but not visited for the past three or more. Some may retain images of protesters and violence on the streets, or lockdowns and uncertainty.
But Hong Kong has changed. We have moved on. We are back on a positive trajectory with so much more to offer. From entertainment, culture and sports to the arts, not forgetting our world-class hospitality from the finest five-star hotels, Michelin-starred restaurants and some of the best street food in Asia, we really do have something for everyone.
I remain confident we are back on track with a very bright future, and once again we have proven we have the resilience and mindset to play a significant role on the world stage.