Hardly an aspect of life in Hong Kong was unaffected by the web of measures introduced to combat the Covid-19 pandemic.
Not least among highlights that were dimmed were the Lunar New Year fairs across the city, where stalls have been confined to flowers and plants. That has spurred nostalgic anticipation of the return at next February’s fairs of traditional stalls.
Evidence of that is to be found in competition for stall rights at the first fairs since anti-Covid measures were dropped. Candidates keenly contested auctions for stalls – at prices ranging from four to six figures – at 15 fairs across the city from February 4 to 10.
About 400 people turned up for an auction of 79 dry goods and eight thematic stalls for the main fair in Victoria Park, according to the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department.
Successful bids for dry goods stalls ranged from HK$8,540 to HK$33,000 (US$1,095 to US$4,232), and for thematic stalls from HK$35,000 to HK$49,000. But lower prices compared with pre-pandemic auctions in 2019 are a reminder that confidence is still in recovery from the pandemic years.
The successful bidders for a dry goods stall at the Victoria Park fair included the Democratic Party, the city’s main opposition. But the authorities rejected its winning bid without giving a reason.
Party chairman Lo Kin-hei said the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department cited the government’s right not to enter into a licence agreement with any successful bidder without cause.
The party was disappointed because the Lunar New Year fair had been a good opportunity to communicate with the public.
The department could consider clarifying the rules of what is supposed to be a fun event during a festive period and throw some light on grounds for rejection of a successful bid.
It should not just be assumed that the Democratic Party will do something to justify the exclusion. And if it does breach the national security law, for example, it is up to the police to act.
Separately, the government has flagged concerns by saying officers would be patrolling the fair to inspect merchandise or displays that could be carrying messages in violation of the national security law.
The authorities may not need to give a reason but, if they do not, people will tend to politicise the issue.