Friday. 19/11/2021

The Monocle Minute

Image: Getty Images

Opinion / Naomi Xu Elegant

Shipping out

In August I spent three weeks alone in an air-conditioned hotel room in Hong Kong’s Causeway Bay. The windows were sealed shut and meals were delivered to my door three times a day. If I stepped outside the room, I faced a hefty fine and a potential stint in jail. Such are the conditions for anyone who arrives here under the city’s strict coronavirus quarantine rules, plus a lot of red tape and pre-flight PCR testing.

Hong Kong currently mandates 14 to 21 days in hotel quarantine for all international arrivals and an additional 24 days in isolation for anyone who tests positive – and these requirements are driving away foreign companies. US multinational Fedex announced this week that it is closing its pilot base here because the rules are too restrictive for it to operate effectively. And Tara Joseph, president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong, resigned from her post this week after failing to convince the city’s government to loosen the rules.

In 2020, Hong Kong’s restrictions were a welcome shield from the virus. Now, with Vietnam, Thailand and Singapore almost fully open, and Australia, Malaysia, Japan and South Korea in the process of easing restrictions, it feels as though Hong Kong is being left behind. The city has prioritised reopening the border with mainland China over all else – a goal it will finally achieve in early December as a small number of Hong Kong residents will be given exemptions to cross without quarantining. But the risk is that it’s a hollow victory.

Quarantine hotels once had their place – I tolerated my summer isolation – but from my conversations with others, I’m in the minority. Every other week I meet someone who is planning to leave because the rules have made living here as an expat impractical and unsustainable. And it’s not just anecdotal: Hong Kong is increasingly in danger of losing its standing as a global business hub.

Image: Getty Images

Elections / Chile

Change of state

Chile has often been cited as a model of stability in South America, with a buoyant economy shored up by its status as the world’s top copper producer. But stagnating GDP, high inflation and long-standing societal fissures, which bubbled into protests in 2019 over everything from education to healthcare, have tarnished the country’s neoliberal model. Chileans will vote on a new constitution next year, one of the promises made in response to the unrest, but first citizens head to the polls in presidential elections this Sunday. Due to a deeply polarised electorate, the outcome is the most uncertain in decades. Incumbent Sebastián Piñera, who recently avoided an impeachment vote prompted by revelations in the Pandora Papers, cannot run. Instead, the field is packed with seven competitors; frontrunners are leftist Gabriel Boric of the Apruebo Dignidad coalition and arch-conservative José Antonio Kast (pictured, second from left, with Boric, far left) from the Partido Republicano. Sunday seems unlikely to produce a clear winner; expect a run-off on 19 December.

Image: Shutterstock

Defence / USA

Frosty relations

The US Department for Defence announced this week that the new Ted Stevens Center for Arctic Security Studies will be located in Anchorage, Alaska. The outpost, which was approved in June, will explore military interests as well as the effects of climate change on the region. It will be the third defence department centre outside Washington.

Lisa Murkowski, one of Alaska’s senators, said that Anchorage was the only logical location. “We are the state that makes America an Arctic nation,” she said in a statement. “Our geostrategic location creates unparalleled possibilities available nowhere else.” Rather unsurprisingly, the regional expansion arrives at a time when Russia is exercising its own power in the Arctic, including the creation of vast fibre-optic networks, as well as military operations and missile testing. It seems that the US might not be too far behind its old foe in focusing on this area of increasing geopolitical importance.

Image: Shutterstock

Politics / Germany

Power of three

Germany has yet to form a new government. But that didn’t stop the three parties that are currently negotiating a coalition deal from getting their first measure through parliament yesterday. The Social Democrats, Free Democrats and Greens approved an update to federal laws tackling coronavirus. The law would mandate the so-called 3G approach – proof of a negative test, vaccination or recovery from the virus – for workplaces and public transport, amid a spike in cases. Significantly, it would also federalise decisions to close schools and businesses (ending a patchwork of regulations across states) and end Germany’s state of emergency with respect to the pandemic. Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats, who had lobbied for the state of emergency to be extended, opposed the law and might yet scupper the bill in the upper house. It could be their last major act in government: the three parties hope to announce a governing coalition, to be led by the SPD’s Olaf Scholz (pictured, on left, with Merkel), next week.

Image: Shutterstock

Arts / UK

Back in the frame

The Courtauld Gallery, based in London’s Somerset House, reopens to visitors today after three years of renovations. The refit, which is led by architects Witherford Watson Mann and is the 18th-century building’s most significant modernisation project, aims to combine Somerset House’s historical richness with contemporary considerations, such as widened doorways to make it more accessible to wheelchair users. The gallery comprises a series of interconnected rooms whose grand fireplaces and soft pink or blue walls lend it an unusually domestic feel. Against this backdrop, the Courtauld’s impressive collection of works from the medieval period to the present day, including renowned impressionist paintings, is brought to the fore. “The whole purpose when Samuel Courtauld founded the Institute was to create understanding and skill in curating academic knowledge about art history and the collections,” gallery director Deborah Swallow tells Monocle. It’s why she is so thrilled to be able to welcome visitors back this week. “There's something for everybody here.”

Hear more from Deborah Swallow on today’s edition of ‘The Monocle Daily’.

M24 / The Entrepreneurs

Firebelly Tea

David Segal co-founded Davidstea in 2008, helping to grow it into a retail giant. After leaving the Montreal-based company in 2016, he started gourmet fast-food brand Mad Radish. Now he is launching Firebelly Tea, focusing on great tea, smart packaging and well-designed accessories.

Monocle Films / Greece

Why Greeks live longer

Nestled in the heart of the Aegean, the island of Ikaria used to be a secluded spot with a humble and unhurried way of life. Today, a third of the island's population lives to be more than 90 years old. We venture to the local kafeneios, wild beaches and abundant allotments to meet the bronzed seniors.

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