The Canadian tycoon had a fascinating talk with our friends at Tatler Asia about his struggles with the pandemic and addresses the viral WhatsApp message he sent to chief executive Carrie Lam. Extract below, and link to the full interview at the bottom:
MENTALLY, DEALING WITH the pandemic has been very difficult. We’re going on three years now. Hong Kong did a very good job with the Alpha and Delta variants by closing borders internationally and with China. We were the global poster child for keeping the virus out. Then, we were two days away from opening the border with China, but Omicron came and it was a different beast altogether.
I have stayed in Hong Kong this whole time because I wouldn’t be able to handle the 21-day quarantine. I learnt to Zoom and business continued. Actually, during our zero-infection period with the first two strains of the virus, business was not bad. We learnt to open and close, and open and close again, and it was OK: we got by.
But with Omicron, Hong Kong has lagged compared to everywhere else in the world. I look at what’s going on and retail is a ghost town. It’s very difficult to do business with restaurants having a two-person per table rule. It just doesn’t work. Clubs, bars and gyms have been closed since January and every business is fighting for its life.
I’m both a landlord and an operator. I am trying to work with my tenants to keep them alive and figure out how we can help them. For our own restaurants and business, I’m trying to figure out how to survive this, because with tables capped at two people at lunchtime, it’s hard to pay the bills.
We’ve had to implement some unpaid leave for staff. I don’t like doing that, but we had no choice. I’ve tried not to lay off staff and we support them as best we can. I really commend my staff. Many are working from home on Zoom, but many are frightened.
WE NEED ONE VOICE
I’ve spoken to a lot of people in Hong Kong and to a lot of tycoon friends of mine, and everyone feels the same way. We’ll be happy to see the end of the virus. It’s caused a lot of problems and, of course, people are worried about the mass testing and that’s why a lot of people have left the city. People with children are worried they’d be separated from their kids if their child tests positive. The news has caused huge panic, which I understand.
I’ve been doing whatever I can to help Hong Kong. I’ve been working with the government. Sometimes they listen. Sometimes they don’t. I wrote a letter to Carrie Lam which was supposed to be private and somehow got leaked. It caused a huge stir and went viral. People were happy that someone had spoken out. I wasn’t criticising the government; I was just trying to explain to [Lam] that we need one voice. The public is so confused by the mixed messages, and what we need is one voice that feels confident and assures people of what we can expect in the future.
Allan Zeman was talking to Tatler Asia. Click this line to read the full article. Editor’s note: It’s well worth reading the whole essay, for his interesting comments on the future of the region, and Hong Kong’s role as a super-connector.