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January 29th 2020 update: Coronavirus fears are sending Hong Kong tourism plunging, as airlines cut non essential flights to mainland China and cut back services between Hong Kong and China. Theme parks in Hong Kong are temporarily closed until the outbreak is contained. Other than that, much of the city is as normal. 

If you are considering travel to the city, stay clear of crowds and avoid MTR stations, since they have become flash points for violent clashes and be particularly mindful at night. If you no longer wish to travel to Hong Kong, many airlines are issuing refund waivers or the ability to change dates.

Hong Kong is in the midst of change, as China seeks to gain a stronger political grip on the special administrative region, which puts the SAR in Hong Kong’s official title. Recent government proposals and emergency powers to extend Beijing’s power in Hong Kong have caused outrage amongst locals. The outrage toward Beijing and new Hong Kong Police powers has lead to large scale protests around government buildings and an expanding range of the city, including the airport.

Naturally, all of the above has people wondering if it’s safe to visit Hong Kong right now. The short answer: mostly yes for tourists, but life in Hong Kong is no longer simple and care must be paid to avoid flash points of conflict.

After months of chaos, Hong Kong is beginning to ease tensions, at least in terms of things getting back to normal. MTR stations have reopened, bars and restaurants are back in business and in much of the city, you’d never know of any conflicts.

hong kong peakHong Kong is facing an existential crisis, as nearly 1/10 businesses will be forced to close permanently due to the lull in visitors. If you are considering a visit, this is the safest it’s been in months and many top attractions, hotels and other things are cheaper than ever before. Support this city.

First, Let’s recap the last few weeks.

January: the outbreak of Coronavirus and reported cases in Hong Kong is crushing efforts to rebuild tourism after the protests. Airline waivers are in place and many theme parks and other activities are closed until the outbreak is contained.

December has seen the largest protest march, but also the least violence thus far. Tensions remain strong in offices and amongst those on either side of the equation, but for travellers visiting the city it’s most business as usual and transit links are once again functioning.

October – November: Clashes became violent between riot police and protestors after China Day demonstrations on October 1st, and things worsened in the aftermath, with at least one protestor being shot. Since then, the Hong Kong Government has expanded police powers, which has only worsened the tension.

In late October, things seemed to be calming down, but November has seen a raucous return to upsetting violence from both sides and severe disruption to every day life in key business centres and tourist areas, such as Tsim Sha Tsui, Central and Admiralty.

August – September: In August, hundreds of flights were cancelled as protests made their way from the city to the airport , but things have since dispersed and flights have resumed fully normal service. There are protestors who continue making it hard to get to and from the airport, but once airside it’s business as usual at Hong Kong International

Stuck In Political Gridlock

China has in no uncertain terms stated its opposition to the protests and has clamped down on any businesses which support the peoples right to protest, and in turn, protestors are now targeting any and all Chinese Government buildings or businesses for vandalism.

With all that said, there are many parts of the city which are still business as usual entirely, and once again you could potentially visit the city without a clue that there was a large gathering of people near a building somewhere in town. Unfortunately though, the chaos is affecting transit links, which means it may be hard to get around, and not entirely safe either.

Where Are The Hong Kong Protests?

The August 31st and September 1st protests were predominantly in Admiralty, Causeway Bay, Mongkok and Tsim Sha Tsui, but knock on effects have caused transit delays and links to the airport and crucial city transit routes in the months following.

October’s protests, which started on the 1st and continued to gain violent traction had focused on Causeway Bay, Central and Victoria Park and many metro stations and  businesses in the area have now closed. Nathan Road and areas of Tsim Sha Tsui have sadly also become key flash points with violence over the weekend found predominantly in TST.

November has seen things spread even further, with disruption not only along Nathan Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Mongkok and Central, but also Tuen Mun, Hung Hom and Sha Tin. Fortunately, December has brought at least a temporary end to the most violent clashes and much of the city is returning to former glory.

Protests spreading to these popular areas means you could see these pro-democracy, anti Hong Kong extradition protests near popular hotels and shopping areas, so stay away from large groups at any cost and avoid wearing white or black, or anything that looks like a mask.

Getting anywhere near one of these crowds is now incredibly dangerous.

Use Twitter to keep an eye out for where any actions are taking place, and if you see a crowd, go the other way. These instance are rare, and isolated but are important to bear in mind, should you find yourself near a crowd. Side note: try to avoid wearing black or white.

The US State Department has issued a “Level 2” travel advisory for Hong Kong, up from standard Level 1. Before that alarms you, a Level 2 warning is the same level as the UK, Spain, Barbados, Italy and many more, and 1 is the lowest of 4 possible ratings.

What about violence? Some protests have became physically violent, with flames being thrown at police, and violent responses from police in return, including live bullets. This has remains an issue, with police using tear gas on large groups over the weekend. A protestor was shot in the torso over the weekend, and someone confronting the protestors was lit on fire.

Avoid standing outside Chinese Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) buildings, or outside Mainland Chinese owned businesses, in addition to the residence of embattled Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam. There have also been violent clashes in metro stations: Prince Edward, Mongkok and Kowloon Bay, as well as Tsim Sha Tsui, even near famed hotels along the commercial area.

Protests crowds are generally isolated and to reiterate, you may be able to visit the city without knowing that they’ve happened – but you also may not. Unfortunately, that’s becoming increasingly difficult.

Keep in mind, tear gas and rubber bullets have been deployed on large groups, so stay as far away from any demonstrations as possible. Basically – if you see a crowd, go the other way at any cost, or go into a hotel. But again – you may legitimately travel without ever knowing any of the clashes or protests had happened at all.

Sharpening Rhetoric From China, USA, Hong Kong

Beijing has sharpened rhetoric against these pro democracy protests and is threatening to bring heightened action if they do not cease, or return to a peaceful nature – which they have. At the same time, the US has decreed that any violence or action from China toward protestors will cross a red line.

This is effectively becoming a struggle to maintain the previously clear “one country two systems” independence for Hong Kong, supported by the West versus a newly sparked desire by Beijing in the East to control the region. China’s Aviation Authority (CAAC) has sought new measures to keep all protestors out of China, which lead to the departure of Cathay Pacific CEO Rupert Hogg.

At level 2, the US State Department is not saying to cancel a trip, it’s noting to avoid crowds and places where you could be caught up in civil action. It’s just a common sense look at keeping your eyes open.

What Are The Protests About?

The Hong Kong Protests are centred around a government bill which would comply with a Chinese Government request to extradite citizens from Hong Kong to the Peoples Republic of China. China is looking to increase power and influence in the region, which is a wildly unpopular move amongst HK citizens. With the wavering commitment China has shown to basic human rights, transparency, freedom of speech and fair trials, the move is widely objected by youth in Hong Kong and

To avoid being accidentally caught up in the fracas, avoid avoid wearing white or black outfits and be sure to monitor social media and articles like this one to keep up to date on protest locations.

So Is It Really Safe To Visit Hong Kong?

Hong Kong is one of the safer cities in the world, with low crime rates and excellent standards of medicine and healthcare, even with current unrest. Hotels and businesses in Hong Kong desperately need the visitors, so it’s a great time to go.

Unless you’re planning to join the protests, Hong Kong should still be safe for visitors.

A Level 2 warning from the United States State Department means they equivocate all the action in Hong Kong to be of a similar level of caution as daily life in London, or Rome. If you don’t wish to travel, some airlines are issuing travel waivers which allow you to change for free.

Basically, be on alert, but no one is saying not to go. That’s up to you.

Will There Be More Hong Kong Protests?

More protests are expected and are generally targeted toward Chinese Government buildings and Hong Hong Central Government offices, but the situation is changing constantly. Keep abreast of the situation using BBC News, and by following local media on Twitter.

Here’s an essential guide to Hong Kong, in case you need one.

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