23 MARCH 2020

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Article from BTNews 23 MARCH 2020

A letter from Hong Kong

Tony Tyler, the former director-general and chief executive of IATA and previously chief executive of Cathay Pacific Airways, recently returned to Hong Kong, where he is presently. He also has a home in the south of France. Here, he updates the position in Hong Kong for Business Travel News.

Six weeks ago Hong Kong was considered one of the world’s most dangerous places, but I’d rather be here than Europe right now.  Thanks to SARS, people here understand what has to be done. 

Most people wear masks – a constant reminder to act responsibly.  Doors, lifts and other surfaces are disinfected hourly.  Social distancing happens: no big parties, no handshakes, hugs or kisses.  Many places check temperature – I reckon I get tested twice daily. Offices operate with divided staffing.  Clubs and gyms ask members not to visit for 14 days after they return to Hong Kong.  Borders are closed to a growing list of countries including Mainland China, with quarantine strictly applied.  Testing, then identification and isolation of contacts is thorough. There is broad social support for all this. 

Result – slow growth in COVID-19 numbers, and only from known infection tracks or imports.  There’s been a spike this week from people rushing back to beat quarantine: we’re all rather annoyed that recent returners from countries with higher infection rates rushed straight down to the bars of Lan Kwai Fong – with predictable consequences. 

At least we’ve been through the panic hoarding stage – a month ago you couldn’t buy toilet paper or rice!  That didn’t last long.

I worry about the airline industry. If it’s going to survive, governments will have to help it.  Supporting specific airlines with cash is distortionary, but it’s already happening.  All governments should immediately cancel the taxes and charges they inflict on airlines.  And waive airport and Air Navigation Service Provider (ANSP) charges.

For a century the industry has been a force for good.  Cargo is still flying and requires to be.  When this is over the world will need rebuilding.  We have the leaders and a superb workforce. Now, and when it is over, it is up to the politicians to give us every support. Fly onwards!"

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OUR READERS' FINEST WORDS (All times and dates are GMT)

All comments are filtered to exclude any excesses but the Editor does not have to agree with what is being said. 100 words maximum


Andreas W. Schulz, Germany

Europe missed to learn from the past and how some regions in Asia, like Hong Kong, sucessfully dealt with SARS and Covid-19. Its also a matter of iron discipline to handle this. Europe is still dramatically learning this lesson.


Keith Wallis, Canterbury, England

Having also been resident in Hong Kong at the time of SARS 17 years ago Iím surprised there havenít been more comparisons with that virus and Covid-19 given they, allegedly, come from a similar source - eating wild animals that perhaps shouldnít be eaten. In the case of SARS it was civet cats. The thing about SARS, although people didnít know if at the time, was it was relatively short-lived - lasting, in HK at least, until the end of May thanks due to the measures outlined by Mr Tyler and a tougher public cleansing regime that to a certain extent continued after the virus was eradicated. Once the SARS outbreak was over the world seemed to bounce back pretty quickly - with global GDP growth of around 3% according to the World Bank. Hopefully Covid-19 will be similarly short-lived and itís economic impact a blip rather than a catastrophic collapse.


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