Feature image courtesy of handout
2020 has been a rollercoaster of a year. Pandemic aside, we have witnessed the loss of icons and a gambling tycoon, fights breaking out over toilet paper and masks (worldwide), and the near-loss of a beloved Hong Kong theme park. But it has not been entirely bad—we take a look back at some of the weird and wacky headlines that have made the news in Hong Kong in the past year, as well as some of the more heart-warming events of 2020 (which helped get us through this whirlwind). Thank you for joining us on this ride as we get ready to bid the year adieu and (hopefully) welcome a much better and brighter new year in 2021.
Well, it would be impossible to forget the headline that dominated (and continues to dominate) much of our airwaves. According to the South China Morning Post, the first confirmed case of Covid-19 in Hong Kong was reported on 23 January, and as a result, the Lunar New Year Cup and Lunar New Year Carnival were cancelled due to concerns of the imminent outbreak. With cases on the rise, Hong Kong officially closed its borders to non-residents arriving from overseas by 25 March, whilst all returning residents were required to do a compulsory quarantine of 14 days and wear a tracking device issued by the Hong Kong government. It all seems like a lifetime ago...
In light of rising Covid cases and fuelled by online rumours of a toilet paper shortage, Hong Kong residents flocked to the supermarkets to stock up on supplies. Most stores became depleted almost overnight due to the sudden increase in demand. Hour-long online queues for supermarket and pharmacy e-portals became commonplace, fights over goods and produce erupted, supermarkets imposed a purchasing limit on high-demand items, and there was even an armed masked robbery of a Wellcome store in Mong Kok mid-February, where three masked bandits made off with 600 whopping loo rolls. Considering the haul was worth about $1,600, the barrister overseeing the case deems that toilet paper can be considered valuable under such extenuating circumstances.
In an attempt to reduce close physical contact, many Hong Kong companies employed a “work-from-home” strategy. Zoom meetings quickly became the new norm across Hong Kong by March. However, six management trainees from Hang Seng Bank struggled to adhere to the rules and chose to skive off work instead. The group was caught red-handed when they shared pictures of themselves on Instagram whilst out hiking, captioned, “Best WFH activity.” Locals were quick to make fun of the foolish trainees and renamed Hang Seng to “Hang San” (行山), which means hiking in Cantonese. Naturally, the trainees were given warning letters and Hang Seng has since reviewed and amended their processes to keep tabs on their workers’ progress whilst working from home. Note to self: Do not do it for the ‘gram.
In other stay-at-home, social-distancing news, further restrictions to outdoor activities and gatherings forced many to turn to their laptops and mobile phones for some... comfort. Visits to the pornographic website Pornhub hit an all-time high in March, with a staggering increase of 23.4 percent from users in Hong Kong alone, whilst figures elsewhere saw an impressive increase of 12 percent that month on average.
Thanks to the temporary closure of Ocean Park since late January, its resident senior giant pandas, Ying Ying and Le Le, finally get it on in April for the first time in 10 years! It’s been a long time coming; it is reported that Hong Kong’s flagship amusement park has been attempting to get the pair to mate since their arrival all the way back in 2007. Turns out, all they needed was some alone time away from the public eye... (cue the Marvin Gaye music).
In May, it was announced by the government that Ocean Park required an urgent bailout of $5.4 billion to stay afloat for another 12 months due to the collapse in the economy. Risking permanent closure, the tourist attraction had initially asked for a $10 billion bailout in January; however, before the end of May, the $5.4 billion bailout had been secured, and Ocean Park reopened around mid-June to the delight of many—only to shut again (temporarily) a month later.
On 8 June, the government announced a cash payout scheme to help relieve the financial burden that Hong Kong citizens may have experienced as a result of Covid-19. Permanent Hong Kong ID holders of 18 years or above were able to register electronically or via paper forms, with their local banks, to receive $10,000. While some may have stashed away their cash payout for a rainy day or spent it on something shiny and new immediately upon receipt, there were others, like Payout Giveback, who encouraged Hongkongers to use the money to donate towards worthy causes instead.
Hongkongers flocked to the great outdoors and many took up hiking as a way to combat the restriction blues. However, the sudden rise in popularity amongst beginners also saw a sharp rise in accidents, resulting in an increase in mountain rescues—and even some casualties as unseasoned hikers took to the trails in inappropriate gear and clambered onto dangerous spots for optimal photo-taking opportunities.
Travel plans have been heavily affected this year as a result of Covid, not to mention the loss of Cathay Dragon, which further put a dampener on our hopes of travelling. Our hopes had been high when we first heard talk of a proposed travel bubble between Hong Kong and 11 countries, including Japan, only for the bubble to drift away into nothingness.
When the news broke of an air travel bubble opening up between Singapore and Hong Kong, it gave many wanderlust enthusiasts a glimmer of hope. Launching the air travel bubble meant that Hong Kong and Singaporean residents would be able to travel between the two countries after being subjected to a series of Covid-19 tests as safety measures.
However, once again, Covid-19 burst yet another bubble with a fourth wave of confirmed cases, and authorities in both cities decided to defer the plan to 2021, preventing the bubble from ever taking off. Oh well, suppose we’ll still have flights to nowhere, right? Just be sure to snap up the tickets fast, since the first round sold out in less than an hour.
Although the travel restriction left many in dampened spirits, the plus side of the travel restrictions has meant that the city’s natural fauna was allowed to blossom once again. Pink dolphins made a return to Hong Kong’s coasts due to ferry operations being halted back in February. Whilst, in other countries, the local wildlife started to invade city centres and previously populated areas, Hong Kong had its own mini version of a takeover, with a family of boars deciding to go for a dip in the fountains outside Bank of China Tower in September to cool off.