December 2019 was a watershed month for China, and Hong Kong by extension. On 1 December 2019, laboratory tests confirmed the first case of Covid-19 in Wuhan.
Even up till the end of December, the reality of a pandemic-in-the-making, did not occur to anyone. The South China Morning Post had on 31st December 2019 described the virus as a “mysterious outbreak of viral pneumonia in the central Chinese city of Wuhan.” Officially, Wuhan had only reported 27 infections, according to the SCMP.
Only on 23 January 2020 was the virus confirmed to have spread to Hong Kong.
More significantly, December 2019 was also the month pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong reached a crescendo. Shopping malls were targeted and sporadic confrontations occurred between some protesters and the police.
Over 1,000 people were believed to have rallied in Central on 23rd December. Prior to that on 8 December, up to 800,000 people were believed to have marched from Victoria Park to Central (police claimed it was only 183,000 people at its peak), as per news reports.
Certainly, Hong Kong was the last place anyone would want to visit unless it’s for work purpose.
‘Holiday at work’
But for me, that was the best time to visit Hong Kong, I reassured family and friends. As long as one stays away from the action, the rest of Hong Kong was good for exploring. So I packed my bags and there I was – an intrepid traveller in Hong Kong enjoying the relative quiet instead of its usual bustling city atmosphere.
True enough, it was much less crowded and the weather was good, and there were huge discounts on hotels and entertainment.
The queues were practically gone except for a few places like very popular restaurants and some bars in Lan Kwai Fong, famed for its bar and nightclub scene.
Contrary to popular belief, fanned by dramatic scenes of protest violence as seen on mainstream media, the Hong Kong that I was in during the last week of December 2019, was quiet, orderly and peaceful. Although there was some tension in the air among the residents due to the recurring protests that sometimes descended into violence, most people just went about their business as usual. Tourist numbers have fallen to a trickle and business was slow but life still went on.
Causeway Bay, the shopping district of Hong Kong, was still full of shoppers, Lan Kwai Fong was full of party-goers and buskers were still aplenty. Generally, you feel safe. The only time I saw the police was at Causeway Bay where a police truck was parked next to Times Square shopping mall. No barricades and no disturbance of the peace. In fact, despite the thin crowds, buskers were out in full force near the Hong Kong Observation Wheel and AIA Vitality Park near Central Harbour.
The slower pace, I was informed, was partly due to many Hong Kongers having gone overseas for their annual year-end holiday.
Furthermore, protests were organized such that they took place only at certain streets during certain hours only, so people generally avoided those places during those times.
The following photos will give you a better idea …