Covid-19 may prove no match for cautious return of HK Sevens
- Suspended since 2019 because of pandemic restrictions, the rugby spectacle is set for a November comeback that will signal to the world another city step towards normal life
If there is a public event that once reflected Hong Kong’s openness to the world it has to be the annual Rugby Sevens tournament. As a result, there is no more telling signal that the city no longer welcomes travellers with open arms than the suspension of the tournament since 2019 because of pandemic restrictions.
The news that the event is coming out of Covid-19 hibernation in November, roughly coinciding with global banking and fintech conferences in the city that month, boosts hopes of a significant return towards normal life sooner rather than later.
It is not just players, officials and local spectators who have missed out on what is considered the premier tournament of the World Rugby Sevens series, but thousands of overseas visitors who provided much of the life of what is a three-day sporting and social party.
Launched in 1976, the Hong Kong Sevens may be predated by international tennis and golf, but it has been the participation of teams and supporters that has resonated with the city’s claim to be Asia’s world city.
The most powerful signal that Hong Kong is bouncing back, after nearly three years sheltering from the virus behind a wall of quarantine, vaccination and testing, would be the return of the Sevens. The most positive pandemic news in recent memory therefore is that the authorities have given the Hong Kong Rugby Union the green light to host this year’s tournament.
However, it is easier said than done. The organisers would have to comply with pandemic restrictions still in force at that time. The Sevens would operate within a closed loop similar to that used for the Beijing Winter Olympics earlier this year, with players and officials likely to be confined to their hotels and Hong Kong Stadium.
Without a significant relaxation of current quarantine requirements, the representation of overseas supporters – a feature of the event and a boost for the local economy – could be severely limited. That would be a pale imitation of the revelry and friendly rivalry – among players and fans – normally associated with the tournament.
However, Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu has confirmed that hotel quarantine is to be reduced. According to sources, officials have been considering reducing the week-long hotel quarantine for fully vaccinated arrivals to three days followed by four days’ isolation, or “3+4”, at home or elsewhere.
At the same time, expert advisers are considering lowering the minimum vaccination age to as young as six months. News of the death of a 22-month-old baby girl from Covid-19 could weigh on these deliberations.
With more than three months before the Sevens, there is time to carefully lower barriers in a scientific and practical way.