航班取消 | Flight cancellation
約翰百德 (John BATTEN)
at 4:54pm on 24th February 2020
澳洲各大城市都可以找到色彩繽紛的街頭壁畫。這幅出自澳洲藝術家Tom O''Hern手筆，位於澳洲塔斯曼尼亞荷伯特Bidencope Lane的壁畫作品，在此畫出了天馬行空的生物，令我看出了新冠病毒。2020年2月20日（照片由作者提供）
Colourful street murals can be seen in most Australian cities. Imaginary creatures, now imagined by me as alluding to the coronavirus, can be seen in this section of a street mural by Australian artist Tom O’Hern, Bidencope Lane, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia, 20 February 2020. (Photo: John Batten)
(Please scroll down for English version)
2003年沙士肆虐，還有2019年的反政府抗爭期間，離開香港會令我感到尷尬和內疚。身為香港居民，我希望分享那些時刻、留在我的家見證那些事件。我對新冠病毒疫情卻有著截然不同的反應。回顧近代歷史，流感病毒源頭很多時都牽涉中國 –– 雖然沒有確鑿證據證明中國是感染源頭。然而，中國國內人類靠近豬和禽類居住的情況，加上國內大城市人口稠密，令病毒更容易在中國國內由動物跳往人類身上，這也許是合理的結論。近年，中國內地出現了進食果子貍和蝙蝠等野生動物的現象，這些動物更在內地菜市場有售，結果沙士與禽流感相繼出現，有說正是病毒從動物跳到人類身上的例子。
by John Batten
I arrived in Melbourne, Australia the day after Hong Kong’s Lunar New Year public holidays ended. Because of the new year and despite booking months ahead, I had only been able to get a reasonably-priced ticket through Manila with Philippine Airlines. In those few days after arriving in Australia as more information about the coronavirus emerged, the world’s established travel patterns were disrupted – similar happened in the first Gulf War and during SARS. The Philippine government were one of the first countries to announce that all flights into and out of China, including Hong Kong, were to be banned – other countries have introduced similar bans or imposed quarantine on arrivals from the mainland. The Philippine decision may have also been prompted by recent revelations in the Philippine media of the many mainland visitors who had overstayed their Philippine visas and were working illegally in the country. Not only were Chinese nationals arriving in the Philippines, but they were ‘disappearing’ into the vast urban and messy sprawl of Manila. These illegal mainland workers can be found throughout the world, even in poorer countries like the Philippines, working on construction sites, in restaurant kitchens, at illegal mining operations, or, in backstreet clothing manufacturing sweatshops. The Philippine government made a prudent decision under those circumstances, but it was also incredibly disruptive. Many of the Philippines’ overseas contract workers (OCWs) transit through Hong Kong when returning to the Philippines for holidays or for contract renewals. Hong Kong’s own overseas workers, particularly domestic helpers who had planned to return to the Philippines over the new year holidays, were caught by the Philippine government’s travel ban: they couldn’t return to Hong Kong, although that restriction has now been eased.
Because of the Philippine government’s ban, I have had the return sector flight from Manila to Hong Kong cancelled by the airline. I was initially in a dilemma about this, but as I have no urgent work to do or meetings to attend in Hong Kong and can work remotely, I have relaxed about not being able to immediately return. Many others, who work for employers, including Hong Kong’s domestic helper workforce, don’t have the flexibility that I do.
During SARS in 2003 and the recent anti-government protests in 2019 I would have been embarrassed and guilty to have left Hong Kong. As a Hong Kong resident, I wanted to share those times, to stay at home, to witness the events. My reaction to the coronavirus outbreak is markedly different. Over recent history, the origins of influenza virus outbreaks have often implicated China – although it has not been conclusively proved that the country is the source country of infections. However, the close living conditions of humans with pigs and birds in China and the country’s high-density, large urban populations, makes it a reasonable conclusion that viruses jump from animals to humans more easily in China. The more recent phenomena of eating exotic animals such as civet cats and bats, readily found in mainland wet markets, has seen SARS and avian flu viruses, it is believed, jumping from animals into the mainland human population.
The worst recent influenza epidemic in recent history was the 1918-1919 outbreak with 500 million people, or one-third of the world’s population, infected and an estimated 50 million people dying world-wide. Direct comparisons with the Covid-19 virus should not easily be made with the 1918 epidemic, as there were no vaccines or antibiotics to treat secondary infections available at that time. Also, our knowledge of the necessary cleanliness, restrictions on social contacts and good personal hygiene, plus vast improvements in our medical and diagnostic capabilities and hospital care facilities, will not allow a repeat of the devastating deaths of the 1918 epidemic. That is reassuring, but any infected individual will be worried about their personal health. Any disease or medical condition has a degree of an unknown outcome: ‘things can go wrong ’and that, at this moment, is our fear. Friends in Hong Kong and Hong Kong friends in Melbourne say don’t return to Hong Kong immediately. I hesitate about that opinion. But, I don’t have an airline ticket, anyway….
So, I have decided that I am in no hurry, I will return to Hong Kong in mid-March. It is lovely to reacquaint myself with a country in which I was born and have hardly known since 1980, when I first left. This is my first summer trip to Australia for 32 years and it is a funky, confident country. But, even here, there is great concern about the virus: the estimated 150,000 mainland students that bank-roll Australia’s universities cannot return to their university classrooms without first being under 14 days of house-quarantine. Australia is acutely concerned about the negative economic consequences of the virus. Eventually, even if the spread of the virus itself can be curtailed, the economic consequences of disrupted trade and supply lines and restricted international travel will impact the entire world.
This article was originally published in Ming Pao Weekly on 28 February 2020. Translated into Chinese by Aulina Chan.