Monthly Newsletter – December 2020

The year 2020 has been full of unsettling news.

The Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted life’s rhythms and routines. Live events have been cancelled, the economy is reeling, bars and restaurants hit with multiple restrictions are struggling to stay afloat and regular milestones—weddings, anniversaries, birthday celebrations, graduation ceremonies—have been moved online, reduced to a handful of close contacts or scrapped completely.

On top of the invisible virus, the new National Security Law has significantly altered Hong Kong’s political life. This year’s planned Legislative Council elections were postponed, opposition lawmakers, activists and students have been rounded up by police and some have fled abroad or been apprehended trying. Many of the signs, songs and slogans that animated last year’s protest marches have now become proscribed criminal offences.

But rather than focus on all the bad, I thought it might be better to use this last newsletter of 2020 to shine a brief light on some of the positive notes from the year. And there have indeed been some to reflect upon.

The first is that as far as the pandemic is concerned, help—in the form of a vaccine — is on the way. In record time, barely a year since the mysterious new virus was first reported by doctors in Wuhan, China, several vaccines have received emergency authorisation for use, including two from the United States, from Pfizer and Moderna, said to be about 95% effective. China is said ready to have 600 million doses of a vaccine ready this year. The United Kingdom this week is the first country to actually start administering the jabs, thanks to a swifter approval process.

The vaccines require a lot of care and storage, and shipping enough around the world, especially to poorer countries, will be a Herculean logistical task. And countries are still debating who should get the first jabs. Vulnerable elderly residents in nursing homes? Frontline medical staff most at risk? Essential workers who keep the food processing plants running and the grocery shelves stacked? The answers will determine how quickly the virus abates and normal life can resume.

But the logistical concerns should not detract from what is a miraculous scientific feat—the development of a vaccine against a deadly pandemic in record time. By this time next year, life is likely to be returning to something we recognise as normal, travel should be resuming and we will all be telling stories about the nightmare year that was. If so, that will be because of this incredible worldwide effort by scientists and epidemiologists who deserve our heartfelt thanks.

Also, while we always prefer face-to-face classes and having our students with us here in Eliot Hall, the past several months have been instructive for showing ways we can integrate some online features into our courses going forward.

And while no one has enjoyed the periodic lockdowns and restrictions, or the disrupted travel and vacation plans, many have told me how they have come to relish the simple pleasures of downtime—catching up on good books, binge-watching those missed miniseries, spending time in nature on hikes, and enjoying more time at home with family and close friends.

Looking back, 2020 is definitely going to be a year we may all want to forget. But we should also take a moment to reflect on the year’s many shards of light.

This month we are saddened to have lost a much-loved member of our HKU Journalism family. We said farewell to Hargow, the delightful Chug—the half-Chihuahua half-Pug mix—who kept regular office hours on the couch of his human, Sharron Fast.
Hargow succumbed to advancing age and various health afflictions before leaving us forever on December 3rd. Familiar to staff and students, and fond of all, Hargow attended most orientation sessions and information days, and was even known to frequent staff Happy Hour sessions on High Street in Sai Ying Pun, often propped on a stool.

But what we most recall is the patter of his tiny feet on spindly legs as he propelled down the hallway on the second floor of Eliot Hall in search of snacks and treats, which were preferably soft since he was lately of just a single tooth. Hargow’s fame extended to the stage, where he shared the role of Bruiser Woods in the Hong Kong production of “Legally Blonde, the Musical”. One review at the time praised his “undeniable stage presence”. He was 11.

Keith B. Richburg
Journalism and Media Studies Centre