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Weeks 30,31+32 - Out of the Fourth Wave

Weeks 30 to 32 of my year in Hong Kong. Consistently low daily cases (in the single digits) mean that restrictions are lifted and things are allowed to reopen.

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Posted on 8th March 2021

Huge thanks to Dr and Mrs Holliday for awarding me the Nick Holliday Travel Scholarship, in memory of their son Nick who was a geography teacher at KES. He was an avid traveller, explorer and climber, and died tragically in a climbing accident doing what he loved. The Scholarship helps fund the travels of KES students who aspire to travel, which I am sure Nick would be very proud of.

Got very good news at the start of the week following Chinese New Year. Daily case counts were averaging between 10-15 so restrictions were lifted and most things were allowed to reopen. Pretty much everything but nightclubs could reopen/resume: sports fixtures, gyms, cinemas, bowling alleys and theme parks all got the go-ahead. Restaurants were open until 6pm during the fourth wave; they can now open till 10pm. Still no travel, as inbound travellers have to quarantine for 21 days in a self-funded hotel room. Government is said to be launching a scheme to boost the tourism industry within HK, by encouraging people to visit local attractions and subsidising hotel staycations for residents.

Vaccination programme started last week, though only the Chinese-produced Sinovac jab was available, and only the high-risk/priority groups (which includes politicians) are allowed to receive it at the moment. 70,000 people were booked in for it, and the Pfizer jab is now available from this week onwards, though again for priority groups only. Groups include people over 60 as well as up to two carers, all frontline health workers and care home workers, and lorry drivers who transport food. Similarly to the UK, people in the education sector are not classed as a priority group.

Been a bit busier these past three weeks with everything reopening. Did some work experience, joined a football team and went to see giant pandas. Also had a Covid scare at school which involved a two-day closure, as well as isolation and testing for four boys.

Week 30 (15th Feb-21st Feb)

Week following Chinese New Year and half-term week. Had work experience at a small investment bank from Wed-Fri. Not sure if it's for me but I was interested to see what a typical work day looked like, and I've definitely learnt stuff from it. Had to multitask a bit when they explained stuff to me; they only spoke Mandarin, so I had to translate what they said as well as take in the information from it.

Restrictions loosened on the Thursday (18th Feb). Went out for dinner on the Friday, followed by bowling. That Friday night was the busiest town has been in around 3 months; people wanted to celebrate the reopening of restaurants for dinner, and it was packed. Traffic and beeping horns, crowds milling about and just a general buzz. Went to a Thai restaurant in a popular area, and it honestly felt like everything was back to normal.

Bowling was really fun. For us at least; seems Hong-Kongers treat it as a competitive sport rather than a laugh with your mates. There was no music and the people in the lane next to us wore fancy bowling gloves and got strikes every time. They didn't cheer or celebrate once despite getting about fifty strikes between them. We had a great time; one of us got three strikes in a row, before getting 9 on his fourth ball. We forgot about Covid for like five hours, eating out at a busy restaurant before going bowling. Fingers crossed it stays like this for as long as possible.

Had a Muay Thai session on the Saturday morning. Hadn't done it for three years so was good to get back at it. The gym was well equipped and the coaches were actual Thais which made the experience feel authentic. Good to see gyms back open again; our session was two days after they reopened and it was very busy, with every punchbag being used. Martial arts seem quite popular here in HK; there are quite a few statues of Bruce Lee around.
Thai Boxing

Week 31 (22nd Feb-28th Feb)

Had a Covid scare on the Wednesday, three days into the new half-term. We do a movie night for the boys in house every Wednesday evening. Just as we were about to start the film, one of the boy's parents phoned in out of the blue, saying he needed to go home immediately. Turns out there had been an outbreak at a shopping mall over the weekend, and they had eaten in the restaurant where the outbreak started. One of his family members had tested preliminary positive, so everyone in his family had to be tested. (Fortunately, his result came back four days later as negative, though his relative tested positive which meant he still had to spend 14 days in a government quarantine facility. Quite unlucky on his part; all he had done was eat at a restaurant over the weekend.)

The next two days were fairly hectic; the school was in constant contact with the EDB (education bureau) about what to do with this potential positive case. The housemaster and I were on call constantly, as whenever the school received an update from the EDB we would have to act promptly. For instance, at breakfast we were told that those who shared a room with the boy involved had to self-isolate. His three roommates had to leave breakfast early and stay in the house common room until further notice, with nobody else allowed in. Around midday, we were told they had to go home and get tested, so I took them to the isolation room to wait for their parents. That evening, we were told that if anybody had eaten with the boy (everyone sits in twos), they also had to get tested. This meant one more boy from our house had to go home, so again I took him to the isolation room.
The room of the boy whose relative tested positive, waiting to be deep cleaned

School was closed from Friday until the following Tuesday, to allow for a full deep clean of the building. The boy's result only came back as negative over the weekend, but school remained closed for Monday and Tuesday anyway. Everyone was relieved when he came back as negative, as it stopped things from escalating; school would likely have closed for two weeks if he was positive, and seeing as I live in his boarding house, I probably would have had to get tested and self-isolate for two weeks too.

Good example of the effectiveness of the new app the government had just introduced a few weeks ago called LeaveHomeSafe. Makes contact tracing fairly simple. Every restaurant/venue is registered with the app and has its own QR code. When you go to a restaurant, you have to scan the QR code and the app records your visit. If the government does need to contact you, for instance if there was an outbreak at the place you visited, your name appears in the list of people who were there that day. They can then contact you via the app, which simplifies the whole contact tracing process.
Very efficient LeaveHomeSafe app

Saturday was amazing. Got invited to join a football team, and the match was played at Happy Valley, one of HK's best known locations due to its horse racecourse and outstanding sports facilities (twelve football pitches and a huge VIP box area). The pitches are enclosed by the racetrack, with the stands and VIP area sat just outside the track. It's like a bubble in the middle of the city; immediately outside the stands are main roads and skyscrapers. The view from the pitch is insane, with high-rise buildings and mountains in the background. Atmosphere inside the Happy Valley bubble reminded me of normal times: the combined sound of balls being kicked, referee whistles being blown and shouting from players and fans across multiple pitches brought back good memories.
Happy Valley, with the racetrack enclosing twelve football pitches

Played for Discovery Bay Football Club (DBFC), a full-expat team (one player grew up in Dudley) that plays in Division 1. They're decent; they've won Div 1 three times in the past six years. The standard is honestly not bad at all; Div 1 is made up of mostly expats (with the exception of J Leaguers, an all-Japanese team) so the standard is not too different from the UK equivalent. There aren't enough U18 players in HK to form a competitive league, so most players over 17 just join adult sides. Most of DBFC's players are between 17 and 25, with the exception of two or three 30+ year olds that can still play (the top scorer in Div 1 plays for DBFC and is mid-30s). There aren't many pitches in HK, but all of them seem to be in scenic locations. Excited to play at the other venues as well as more games at Happy Valley.
First match with DBFC, coming on for 25 minutes in a 7-0 win

Week 32 (1st-7th March

School was closed for Monday and Tuesday. Made the most of it and went to Ocean Park, a theme park with a zoo and aquarium. Quite a few people were there considering it was a random Monday. Some rides were unfortunately closed, including the rapids and log flume which are normally my favourite, but the main one Hair Raiser was open. Highlight was definitely the animals; they had North and South Pole sections, a huge aquarium and a tropical zoo. We spent the morning on the rides, which were on the top of the mountain, before heading down the mountain via cable car to spend the afternoon looking at the animals.
Ocean Park

Saw a walrus in the North Pole section. They don't look real; they weigh over a ton and are red with Jabba-the-Hutt-like skin. South Pole section had penguins, whilst the aquarium had over ten types of shark including sawsharks and whale sharks. Also in the aquarium were weird goldfish that looked like they'd been genetically modified. Some had eyes that were the size of half their body, whilst others looked like they'd been inflated like a balloon.
Walrus, penguins and weird Chinese goldfish

Coolest part was the indoor enclosure that had kangaroos and koala bears (first time I'd seen either), as well as giant pandas. Watched the pandas for around half an hour and they did nothing in that time. One licked a rock for a bit while another went away from the window to lie down on a different stretch of ground, and that was about it. Apparently they are so lazy that they'd be extinct without human intervention; they don't voluntarily reproduce so scientists have to force them to in order to prevent their species from dying out. Don't understand how the animals that do the least attract the largest crowds; they had about twenty people gathered around them.
Kangaroo, koala bear and giant pandas


With the vaccination programme starting and cases fluctuating between 10-15 a day, things are looking good for HK. Good to see the UK has really done well with its vaccination drive too, with over 20 million vaccinated including the most vulnerable groups. First time things have felt fully normal for me since last March; even when pubs and restaurants were open in July before I left the UK, there was still tension in the air with staff being strict on tables of six only, as well as contact details and sanitisation. These past two weeks have been, other than the masks, completely normal. School during the week and sports fixtures on the weekend, as well as theme parks, cinemas, restaurants etc open for business. So nice to experience normality again; don't remember the last time I did. Vaccinations seem like a long-term strategy to prevent further mass outbreaks, which hopefully means things will only get better from here and there won't be the need for another lockdown due to a fifth wave.

See you in three or four weeks.

Posted by David Zhao 08:19 Archived in Hong Kong Tagged pandas

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