And Finally

Days of thunder

Hong Kong fury at Nicole Kidman’s quarantine-free arrival in the city


Kidman in Hong Kong this month

Hong Kong’s government has a “zero infection” goal as part of its Covid-19 policy. As a result the territory has some of the strictest quarantine measures in the world, including a mandatory 21-day stay in designated hotels for potentially infectious arrivals in the city.

The rules have been rigorously applied, despite mutterings from senior executives in Hong Kong’s key financial services sector. Even athletes coming back from the Tokyo Olympics faced quarantine in hotel rooms too. But not the Hollywood actress Nicole Kidman, who was given a government exemption to skip quarantine this month, to the widespread astonishment of Hongkongers.

Kidman flew in for filming of the Amazon TV series Expats. According to Singtao Daily, the 54 year-old arrived by private jet from Sydney, where a citywide lockdown has been battling a new outbreak of the Delta variant of the pandemic.

Adding fuel to the public anger, Kidman was spotted shopping in a busy commercial district two days after arriving in town, while her film crew was photographed maskless on set – a flouting of Hong Kong’s stringent social distancing measures.

Many questioned the seemingly preferential treatment on offer, with some legislators slamming the Hong Kong authorities for a tendency to “kiss foreign ass” while residents struggle with the city’s zealous anti-Covid rules. At a Legislative Council (LegCo) meeting last Friday lawmaker Michael Tien berated a government official: “Will all film stars be exempted from quarantine? If not, how do you explain that Nicole Kidman is superior to others?”

That said, his fellow LegCo member Regina Ip countered there were pros and cons to the decision: “It is a good thing to have a leading film star come to Hong Kong and shoot in the city’s nicest locations.”

The government explained that it has tried to strike a balance between supporting “important economic activities” and maintaining a stiff defence against the pandemic. Efforts have also been made to allow filmmakers to continue shooting in Hong Kong, as it is one of the sectors hit hardest by the pandemic (five of Kidman’s film crew were also given quarantine exemptions).

In fact the government says it has been granting about 40,000 exemptions a month from the quarantine process for people working in essential roles (such as cross-border lorry drivers). But a wider relaxation of the rules seems contingent on achieving “zero infection” status – a goal that some experts have described as impractical.

The city has reported just over 12,000 cases of Covid infection, with 212 deaths. Recent outbreaks have been limited in size and mostly attributable to people arriving in Hong Kong from elsewhere.

In an opinion piece published in Ming Pao this week, three local microbiologists argued as to the impossibility of extinguishing the Covid-19 coronavirus completely. It took 184 years after a vaccine was invented for smallpox for it to disappear worldwide, they pointed out, and smallpox is still the only disease to be fully eradicated in human history. Getting rid of the Covid-19 virus could be even harder because of asymptomatic patients, the trio added.

Zhang Wenhong, one of China’s best-known Covid experts, has also suggested that people have to “learn to live” with the coronavirus and its ever-evolving variants. But in doing so he broke ranks with Beijing’s own ‘zero infection’ orthodoxy and took flak from overwrought netizens (see WiC552). Some of these even attacked his academic credentials and claimed he’d plagiarised his doctoral thesis.

China’s authorities cleared Zhang’s name of the plagiarism slur this week. But Zhang was evidently stung by the backlash against his earlier remarks. The medical professor – who is often compared to American immunologist Anthony Fauci – said that he would be spending more of his time working in his lab and would largely steer clear of updating his social media accounts.

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