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Quarantine diaries | Hong Kong: ‘There is no city that I would rather be in...’

With the world on hold, it’s a difficult time to be looking for a job. But being in a region that has battled a deadly virus before is a comfort

MBA classes, with distancing and masks, continue to be held in Hong Kong.
MBA classes, with distancing and masks, continue to be held in Hong Kong. (Photo: Tarini Pal)

“Hi Tarini. I am sorry but unfortunately there is nothing at the moment. We are going into lockdown. We’ll be okay, but cannot bring on anyone, even interns. I can ask around in the group I mentioned but I would not hold out much hope."

“Hi Tarini. Unfortunately, I am working from home these days. I also have a pre-existing chronic illness myself, so I have to be extra careful in this environment. Maybe we meet up for coffee once this situation is more settled."

“Very tough timing, Tarini. The Covid-19 has been such a drag and a disruption. We’re not allowed to travel for business—company policy. And within the office, we try not to have visitors—precautionary measures, but better to play safe."

Photo: Tarini Pal
Photo: Tarini Pal

These are some of the many responses a job-seeking MBA student in Hong Kong like me is getting these days. I moved back to the city about nine months ago to begin a full-time MBA programme here. Friends of mine who are at business schools in other parts of the world say these issues are not localized any more. I suppose the main difference is that the job market here in Hong Kong has been affected for much longer than anywhere else. The city was rocked by protests last year, sparked by the now-withdrawn extradition Bill which would have allowed the transfer of fugitives to jurisdictions with which the city does not have existing agreements, including mainland China. Just when everyone thought things had finally begun to settle down after the Democratic Party swept the district council elections in late November, the coronavirus claimed its first victim in the city right before Chinese New Year in late January, more than a month before it was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization.

There are pros and cons to living in Hong Kong. One of the cons is that the region is so small that it is nearly deemed to be insignificant by the rest of the world, and usually gets ignored by mainstream media. So, while the Western world wasn’t really paying attention to the development of the spread of the virus in East Asia, I was frantically grocery-store hopping, just to find a roll of toilet paper.

One of the pros, however, is that it is administered very efficiently. A couple of days after the first positive case of infection was announced in Hong Kong, I received word that our classes would be held online for the remainder of our term. This announcement was met with mixed reactions. A few of my classmates were relieved but most of them, including myself, were frustrated. This wasn’t the first time that we were going to be short-changed in the programme—we had been made to switch to online classes, from mid-November until winter break, during the protests as well.

After a heated debate, we all finally agreed on requesting the administration to offer optional physical classes as well, for those of us willing to risk it. They eventually agreed, and about half my class of 54, including myself, did end up attending classes in person from Chinese New Year (25 January) up till the present. This might seem like stubborn and foolhardy behaviour on the face of it, but it is important to note that I don’t think a lot of us would have felt the same way had we been anywhere else in the world, as governments in other countries are neither as fast nor as efficient in managing crises. I certainly would not have felt the same way had I been back home in India.

One of the reasons Hong Kong is one of the safest cities in the world is because its citizens have a sense of civic duty, partly due to the fact that they are still traumatized by the effects of SARS, which devastated the region in 2003. Everyone wears a mask. Everyone carries a hand sanitizer. Everyone’s temperature is checked before they enter any building these days. Everyone reports themselves. So, while it has been a rather frustrating experience overall, I would say that there is no other city that I would rather be in during this pandemic.

Tarini Pal is a full-time MBA candidate in Hong Kong.

'Read more quarantine diaries from Indians across the world here.'

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