Kiwis in Hong Kong: Covid & Commerce


Journalist Tommy Walker has been on the ground in Hong Kong during a year of unprecedented turmoil : street protests, a new security regime, and a deadly pandemic have combined to make 2020 a year Hong Kongers will be keen to forget.  

Hong Kong has been going through some undeniable changes in the last couple of years. The city was rocked by months of intense pro-democracy protests in 2019, it was one of the first large cities hit by the global pandemic this year. Now with the controversial National Security Law in effect, things are beginning to shift.

There are an estimated 5,000 New Zealanders currently in Hong Kong, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs & Trade (MFAT).

With China-New Zealand tensions slightly worsening as of late - including Wellington's suspension of the extradition treaty with Hong Kong - New Zealanders in the city could be affected.

And in a city so reliant on international trade and tourism, the Covid pandemic has taken its toll. The city is now in recession, whilst the reputation as ‘Asia’s ‘World City’ has been tainted due to the unrest.

Businesses have struggled to remain open due to spikes in virus numbers, and group gatherings have been also restricted under new social distancing laws implemented by the Hong Kong Government.


Hong Kongers continue to deal with spikes in Covid cases / photo Tommy Walker

 New Zealanders in the city have had mixed feelings around the city’s recent trauma, but most are staying upbeat for a brighter future.

Rory Mackay is a proud Kiwi but born in Hong Kong. He runs the adventure tour company Wild Hong Kong that includes day trips and activities like hiking, kayaking and coasteering

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Rory Mackay's "Wild Hong Kong" offers guided hikes in Hong Kong's rugged hinterland / photo WHK

 Although international visitors have been prohibited from entering Hong Kong since March because of the pandemic, Rory’s domestic business has had a surge, despite COVID19 restrictions within the city.

“We just crack on with the tours. It’s up to people if they are going to wear masks or not. If people have concerns about coronavirus, they can elect not to book a tour." he says. 

Overall, Hong Kong  hasn’t suffered severely from the virus. The city has recorded just over 5,000 cases with 103 deaths, despite recently dealing with its ‘third wave’ of infections.

Hospitality businesses have been among those hit the hardest. Tourist numbers have dropped to record lows, whilst the Government has closed bars and restuarants several times to prevent the risk of further local transmissions of the virus.

David Hogg, from Cambridge, Waikato, is a Business Support Director for British restaurant group Pizza Express in Hong Kong. He’s lived in the city since the beginning of 2017.

“Pizza Express (in Hong Kong) runs fairly independently from the UK. We’re very people-focused. We’ve done our absolute best to keep people and protect our staff as best we possibly can.

We now close a lot earlier than we used to. We’re trying to create new revenue streams; we’ve opened for breakfast, takeaway options and delivery service,” he says.

Hogg says Pizza Express are enforcing mask-wearing, social distancing and separating tables with plastic partitions to limit the chance of virus spread.


A Pizza Express outlet in Wellington Street, central Hong Kong / photo Tommy Walker

Hogg admits he aims to move back to New Zealand one day for family reasons. But he believes Hong Kong's the ideal place for those who are very career-focused.

“From a business perspective I think Hong Kong will bounce back, just look what happens after a typhoon."

"When we had the restrictions released across June, business bounced back to a reasonable level. If you’re here for a career, there’s no reason to leave,”  he adds. .

Ray Isara is from Auckland, and owner of the bar To Be Frank in Kennedy Town. He believes Hong Kong is a city of opportunity.

“Hong Kong will always have bars, expats, and tourists eventually." he says.

“We just opened up before the protests (June 2019). We’re trying to present ourselves as a wine & cocktail bar. We have Marlborough wines, Otago wines, and some others from Australia.

Relations between China and Australia have soured dramatically recently. With China now banning the importation of some of Australia’s finest products like beef and barley, it could be an indication of possible ramifications if New Zealand relations with China worsen.

Ray Isara is pretty relaxed at present though. “Suppliers haven’t mentioned anything to us, and we’ve been able to place orders with them. In the long run, we’ll have to see what will happen (with relations between China-New Zealand),” he says. 


"To Be Frank" bar in Kennedy town on Hong Kong Island / photo Tommy Walker

 The abundance of international food on offer in Hong Kong includes imported fish from New Zealand waters - and found at Hooked Fish ‘n’ Chips.

Owner Matthew Beldham, also from Wellington, has both the restaurant and a seafood market shop. The business has been steady for him and has been largely unaffected by the city’s’ issues.

“We’ve got fresh fish from New Zealand such as Snapper, John Dory, Tarakihi, imported two or three times a week. So far things haven’t changed,” he says.

He also believes Hong Kong has had a better approach in Hong Kong than New Zealand over Covid.

“There has been a better approach here. There have been no draconian lockdowns like back home, and many shops have been allowed to continue. There’s no red tape here, very safe and easy to do business. I strongly recommend people come here for business still, “he added.

Hong Kong has now reopened major businesses and attractions like theme park "Ocean Park", whilst bars, pubs, karaoke lounges and nightclubs have also reopened, with conditions.

As at the end of June 2020, Hong Kong was New Zealand’s 9th largest export market worth $1.16 billion. Top trade products include milk/ dairy, meat, seafood, raw wood and electric machinery.

New Zealand exporters are doubtless hoping that trade continues to grow , and their Hong Kong clients remain quietly confident the economy will fight off the virus for good. 


- Asia Media Centre