While countries throughout the world continue to fight the unprecedented coronavirus, the pandemic has long-term implications for the way communities work, travel, shop and live. Hong Kong is among the first to take steps towards the much discussed “new normal” - lifting certain restrictions while simultaneously introducing new procedures to keep citizens safe as they resume daily routines. While some closures were extended, various businesses including gyms, massage and beauty parlors, and movie theaters were allowed to open their doors in early May, inviting patrons back with an abundance of caution and a variety of processes to protect public health.
Limitations for newly opened businesses tend to focus on capacity restrictions and a maintenance of social distancing; movie theaters must not seat more than eight people in a single row and currently cannot serve concessions while beauticians must maintain a distance of 1.5 meters (approximately 5 feet) between clients. All businesses must operate at 50% of their maximum capacity, a restriction that reasonably causes some frustration in terms of potential profits but is necessary in order to keep space between customers, for both their safety and those of employees.
Governments around the globe have been mired in staunch debate about reopening, with some conversations even resulting in mass action as exemplified by various protest movements throughout the United States. Amid these discussions, many have pointed to Hong Kong as an positive example, noting that the city leveraged its experience under the early 2000s SARS epidemic to create and enforce reasonable social distancing and quarantine practices while also being able to count on the strong participation of the city’s residents in both increased hand washing, mask-wearing, and staying home when not involved in essential travel. While some communities may not be able to directly mirror these aspects of Hong Kong’s coronavirus success, restaurants, theaters, and other businesses around the world are communicating with their peers in Hong Kong to understand various methods to keep customers safe while also reopening the economy, an avenue of cooperation illustrated by the similarities between protections seen in currently open Hong Kong gyms and those proposed for recreational facilities in the U.S.
While one of the cities leading the way, Hong Kong is not the only international center experimenting with various structures for reopening. Schools have reopened in 22 European countries
with restrictions on capacity; with Denmark being the first to open kindergarten classes and nurseries in early April and the United Kingdom continuing debate as to when it would be safe for youth of all ages to resume their education. Other prime examples of reopening have been seen throughout the Asian Pacific. South Korea, another country whose coronavirus response drew much appreciation, announced that June will see the opening of nightclubs, gyms, bars, and concert venues (all considered as “high-risk” facilities )- an indication of a return to the exciting activities that marked much of life before COVID-19. These businesses will be required to utilize QR codes which register customers and can be used to track and isolate infected individuals should new outbreaks occur. Meanwhile in the U.S., southern states throughout the country such as Georgia and Alabama have lifted tenuous restrictions, allowing beauty salons, barber shops and other businesses to open. However, without more strenuous commitment to mask wearing and broader adherence to social distancing, many of these communities have seen an increase in coronavirus cases in the first month of reopening - causing concerns as to whether or not these state leaders rushed into a post-COVID-19 world for the sake of the economy.
Teachers and students adjust to new health precautions as they return to school for the first time since the coronavirus outbreak. [Photo Credit: The Guardian]
The decisions involved in the gradual reopening of Hong Kong demonstrate two sides of any post-coronavirus discussion: hope and trepidation. As Financial Times Asia News Editor Ravi Mattu explained in his reflection of his experience, the new liveliness of the city as businesses reopen “felt as if the city was returning to some sense of normality, even as people were understandably wary and cautious,” both desiring a return to social life but not at the cost of their health. May 8 was but one step among many along the path of returning Hong Kong to some sense of normalcy. Many in the U.S. look forward to similar steps, dreaming of the times when they can return to offices, movie theatres, concert halls, and sporting events. However, the delicate balance between economic stability and public health has never been more tested; governments throughout the world are working day and night to create structures in which both can be reasonably protected while individual agency is also respected. Moving forward, these two twin elements of hope and trepidation are likely to be seen throughout societies around the world as we all, slowly and steadily, enter a post-COVID19 existence.