Wednesday. 26/8/2020

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / James Chambers

Popularity contest

Protests are not dead in Hong Kong; they’ve just had to mutate. The latest form of anti-establishment activism is to boycott the government’s plan to test 7.5 million people for coronavirus. The reason? Critics are comparing the public health risks of swabbing everyone to that of organising the legislative elections. Chief executive Carrie Lam delayed the vote for a year amid the city’s third wave of the pandemic. As a result, the voluntary scheme has become a proxy for the elections, which were meant to take place next weekend. Lam hit back this week but, as they say in politics, the optics don’t look good.

Booths will be set up across the city to collect samples (albeit at timed intervals) and government ministers have been campaigning to encourage participation. Most Hong Kongers see little point in mass testing, especially when daily cases are dropping to single digits. Meanwhile, crazed conspiracy theorists fear a campaign by the Chinese Communist party to collect their DNA.

Across the board, Hong Kongers are also dealing with wounded pride. Lam went to the central government in Beijing for help in conducting the mass testing and her public messaging has played up the helplessness of Hong Kong – a tough pill to swallow in a city that is used to sending its expertise and assistance in the opposite direction. The government is likely to “lose” this upcoming pandemic poll in a big way. However, a large public boycott is hardly a big win for the city, especially given that mass vaccinations could be up next.

Aviation / USA & UK

Cash landing

Virgin Atlantic’s creditors yesterday backed a £1.2bn (€1.33bn) rescue package – essentially a debt restructuring – that should help the airline to remain solvent for the next 18 months and thus avoid going into administration. This marked a shift in tactics by the airline, which is half-owned by Richard Branson’s Virgin Group and half by Delta Airlines in the US, after the UK government refused to provide a bailout. It’s a risky move for creditors but one that makes sense as bridging loans are going to be essential for airlines worldwide to survive, though only if aviation picks up next year. “So much depends now on how the industry recovers,” Murdo Morrison of aerospace news website FlightGlobal told Monocle 24’s The Globalist. “This year has been kind of written off but if we don’t begin to see recovery in 2021 then we will see casualties among big-name airlines.”

Society / Germany

Healing hands

When Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was whisked off to Germany for treatment over the weekend, having fallen suddenly ill on a flight in Russia, he was taken to Berlin’s Charité hospital. Yesterday the medical facility released a statement saying that the politician, who remains in a coma, is very likely to have ingested a poisonous substance. Though Russia denies it, the hospital has credibility. Christoph Amend, editor in chief of weekly news magazine Zeit Magazin, says that Navalny’s treatment there marks a diplomatic coup not only for Germany but also for the Charité hospital itself.

“It’s one of those German institutions that shines for Berlin outside the country,” Amend told Monocle on Sunday, noting that the hospital’s sheer size has long given it a mythical character – and its own TV show. “It’s actually a town within the city of Berlin,” he added. “It’s a cultural place; a legendary place for people in Germany.”

Health / Africa

Immune response

Yesterday the Africa Regional Certification Commission announced that the continent is now entirely free of all cases of wild polio, an incurable and sometimes deadly virus. Less than a decade ago, Africa accounted for more than half of all cases worldwide. Today, thanks to a huge public-health effort, 95 per cent of its 1.2 billion citizens have been immunised. Getting to this point wasn’t easy, however. The biggest obstacle to rolling out the vaccine was building trust among different ethnic groups and communities, says Dr Chris Smith, consultant virologist and lecturer in medicine at Cambridge University. Achieving the same degree of trust for any potential coronavirus vaccine will take time. “It’s much harder to get people on side if they don’t know the efficacy of a vaccine,” says Smith. “What we will need most will be transparent information, clear communication and grass-roots education. Most importantly, people need to see that the vaccine actually works.”

Culture / UK

Trading places

Like many prominent cultural organisations, the British Museum is taking steps to acknowledge some of the more awkward aspects of its past. Ahead of its reopening tomorrow, the museum made the decision to move a bust of its founder, Hans Sloane, from its prominent position due to his links to slavery. “We’ve put it in a new display with other objects that problematise Sloane,” says Neal Spencer, keeper of the museum’s Nile Valley and Mediterranean collections, explaining how the bust was not simply removed but repurposed to acknowledge its past. It’s a sensible solution. Despite his contributions to botanical science and the artefacts in the museum, Sloane’s work and his acquisitions came as a direct result of the slave trade. “We have to remember that this is how this collection was first formed,” says Spencer. “That is a part of our history.” Hear the full interview on tomorrow’s The Globalist.

M24 / The Menu

Recipe edition, Jun Tanaka

A favourite recipe by Jun Tanaka, who has just reopened his restaurant The Ninth in London.

Monocle Films / Retail

Thessaloniki revival

Greece’s second city is defiantly bouncing back from the economic crisis and welcoming an increasingly international crowd. We meet the brave residents who set up shop in the tough times and are now finding success – as well as offering reasons to be hopeful about the country’s future.

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