Hong Kong's food industry faces another round of COVID-19 challenges as the city renews its efforts to contain the virus spread.
"As one of the first areas, outside of China, to start to lock down in response to the coronavirus outbreak, the Hong Kong economy has now endured a half year of COVID-19 fear and uncertainty," says Joel Haggard, who is based in Hong Kong and serves as U.S. Meat Export Federation senior vice president for Asia Pacific. "Hong Kong has endured many pandemics before. It was one of the hardest hit during the 2003 SARS outbreak and it's been on the frontlines of various avian influenza outbreaks. Its pandemic response system is considered world-class and the city has been one of the few not to have had to completely shut down its society with shelter in place rules."
Haggard says Hong Kong managed through the first wave of infection in late January, and then experienced the second wave in the middle of spring when infected inbound travelers, mainly from Europe, were not being properly quarantined. However, he says the city now probably faces its toughest challenge, as new cases with unexplained origins are reaching a level where the city's health system could soon get overwhelmed.
"Keep in mind, Hong Kong is completely dependent on food imports and supply chains have held up remarkably well, but the virus has transformed food and meat consumption behavior," Haggard says. "Retail, and especially online sales, have flourished while restaurants, though mostly remaining open through this entire six-month period, are struggling for business. They face both wary customers and mandated social distancing rules.
"About 10 days ago, as the new clusters expanded, the Hong Kong government ordered the city's 12,000 licensed restaurants to cease all service except takeaway after 6 p.m. The Hong Kong government is hoping that by allowing outlets to stay open, that they can somehow survive on lunch and takeaway dinner service, while at attempts to bring these new outbreaks under control. All this comes on top of the damage late last year that the industry suffered during the pro-democracy protests, so operators here have to be some of the most challenged on the planet."