Monday 26 September 2022 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Monday. 26/9/2022

The Monocle Minute

Image: Shutterstock

Opinion / James Chambers

Too little, too late?

Today, Hong Kong reopens its doors to the rest of the world, scrapping mandatory hotel quarantine and ending two-and-a-half years of self-imposed isolation. I’d like to tell you that I’m excited but sadly it has gone way beyond that. Relief doesn’t quite capture it, either.

Overzealous quarantines have already done so much harm to this fantastic city and many people have left because of them. Living through the occasional ups and countless downs of the pandemic in Hong Kong has left everyone here a little numb and there’s still quite a lot of tunnel to get through before we emerge into the light. Any visitor touching down at Hong Kong International Airport today is entering a world where daily coronavirus case numbers still dominate the headlines. Facemasks are legally mandated in pretty much every public area and a government app bearing your vaccination status and a QR code is required to enter a restaurant or bar.

New arrivals will be given an “amber” code for the first three days of their trip, ruling them out of doing anything diverting and rendering tourism pretty much pointless. The Hong Kong Marathon is one of several sports events to be mothballed this year and while the Hong Kong Sevens rugby tournament is going ahead, spectators will need to wear masks as they cheer (and between sips of beer). Everyday life here would quickly frustrate anyone who has been living elsewhere and while opening up is a step in the right direction, God help anyone who tests positive during their stay. The authorities will keep testing all arrivals and isolating positive cases until they test negative.

Having just been through this ordeal, I can’t see holidaymakers taking the risk. Business travellers would be advised to be in and out of the city in 12 hours or fewer. Hong Kong could still recover from the damage inflicted on it since the pandemic began and regain some of the competitive advantages that have helped the city to thrive but not, in my opinion, until it lifts all restrictions.

James Chambers is Monocle’s Hong Kong bureau chief.

Image: Getty Images

Diplomacy / Saudi Arabia & Russia

Keeping the peace

Vladimir Putin’s sabre-rattling over Russia’s war in Ukraine has intensified a dire stand-off with the West but it has provided an unexpected opportunity for other autocrats to play important diplomatic roles. First, Turkey helped to broker a deal to release Ukrainian grain from a Russian-occupied port to ease food shortages – and last week it was Saudi Arabia’s turn. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (pictured) took credit for his nation’s widely applauded role in a negotiation to release 10 prisoners who had been captured by Russia in Ukraine. “Saudi Arabia’s part in the prisoner exchange is a diplomatic victory,” Elham Fakhro, associate fellow at Chatham House’s Middle East and North Africa programme, tells The Monocle Minute. “And it won’t be the last attempt to play a more active role in global diplomacy and bolster Saudi Arabia’s reputation and soft power.” As the war continues, distrust between Russia and the West is creating space for less-likely regimes to come in from the cold and play peacekeeper.

Image: Shutterstock

Election / Brazil

Matters of fact

Brazilian voters have an insatiable desire for news and this election season is proving to be one of the busiest in recent memory. October’s poll is a battle on many fronts, says Sérgio Dávila, editor in chief of Brazilian daily Folha de São Paulo. The country’s media has had to tussle with an incumbent, Jair Bolsonaro (pictured), who is openly hostile both to journalists and to the idea of journalism itself. Luckily, the country’s legacy media has had time to counter fake news and its sources since the 2018 election. “The big technology companies have done their homework and are better prepared to deal with it than they were four years ago,” Dávila tells The Monocle Minute.

Gustavo Ribeiro, founder of English-language news website The Brazilian Report, says that a thirst for reliable news has resulted in a bump in readership and subscriptions. This week, all eyes will be on the final TV debate between Bolsonaro and his rival Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva on national broadcaster Globo. Whatever the election result, it’s clear that Brazil’s media is playing a crucial role in shaping perceptions.

Follow Fernando Augusto Pacheco’s election coverage on Monocle 24. Listen here for his report on the importance of Brazilian election jingles.

Image: FIND Design Fair Asia

Design / Singapore

East meets West

The inaugural Find Design Fair Asia wrapped up on Saturday after three days of exhibitions, talks and product launches. Part of Singapore Design Week, the fair had a distinctly Milanese flavour as a result of its partnership with Salone del Mobile’s organiser, Fiera Milano, which brought some European know-how, as well as plenty of Italian designers and brands. Highlights of the fair include a showcase of Indonesian hospitality company Potato Head’s plans for regenerative design in Bali and beyond, plus furniture from the Sarawak Young Designers Programme. There was also plenty of stellar work from young studios in Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok and Manila. Singapore was represented but didn’t dominate the booths and stalls; instead, Find generously served as a platform for a broader discussion about the region’s design. “The fair is highlighting the crucial role that Singapore plays,” says Dawn Lim, executive director of Design Singapore Council. “It’s a connector of East and West and a convenor of Southeast Asia’s design scene.”

Tune into ‘Monocle On Design’ for up-to-date coverage of the key developments in the industry.

Image: Iberia

Aviation / Spain

Dressed to impress

As airlines cut budgets, the presence of sharp-looking onboard uniforms has nosedived. Iberia Airlines, however, is working to set the bar higher by investing in a full rebrand to coincide with its 95th anniversary. This includes a refreshed logo, new menus and some very smart uniforms (pictured), created in collaboration with Catalan designer Teresa Helbig, who runs a womenswear label in Barcelona. She polished up the knitwear by adding collars and striped trims in the airline’s signature red-and-yellow branding.

Aware of the power of first impressions, she designed tailored coats for staff to wear at the beginning of flights so that they can greet guests in style. Helbig also introduced women’s flat shoes, a first for the airline, in the form of classic ballet pumps. “We wanted the new uniforms to embody the excellence and contemporary DNA of Iberia,” she tells Monocle. “It was of utmost importance for the crew to feel comfortable but also chic when wearing the uniform. I’ve always believed that great clothes can empower the wearer.”

For the full report and plenty of other uplifting stories from our style special, pick up a copy of our October issue today.

Image: Alamy

Monocle 24 / The Global Countdown

Brazil’s political jingles

Fernando Augusto Pacheco listens to the top political jingles in Brazil. Which one will get your vote?

Monocle Films / Greece

Athens: urban inspiration

Athenians have a knack for injecting pockets of greenery and a sense of innovation into their ancient city. Their urban interventions are aimed at cooling down this dense metropolis and safeguarding its sacred sights as much as the neighbourhood life. We climb its seven hills to get a fresh perspective on the city’s charms.


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