7th March 2021 – (Hong Kong) K11 MUSEA which became the major epicentre in the latest wave of COVID-19 outbreak reopened its doors yesterday. A huge crowd visited LEGOLAND Discovery Centre which opened officially at the basement of K11 MUSEA. It seems like K11 MUSEA timed its reopening yesterday to synchronise with the official opening of LEGOLAND Discovery Centre as a publicity stunt. As long as visitors register as a KLUB 11 member and scan a specific barcode with the app, they will get a HK$150 electronic coupon for use at catering premises and a HK$1,500 beauty and personal care digital coupon. Meanwhile, 3 hours of free parking was also offered. The perks were marketing gimmicks used as bait to regain the confidence of visitors. It seems like many Hongkongers do not mind risking their health in gathering in a crowded mall when freebies are offered. Many cosmetics brands such as Lancome, Estee Lauder, Lamer and Aesop were out of stocks due to the frantic purchase by customers using free cash coupons.
As a result of the marketing gimmicks, K11 MUSEA drew a huge crowd with visitors queuing early morning to enter the mall.
Adrian Cheng, CEO and executive vice-chairman of the Hong Kong-listed New World Development and founder of the K11 brand posted on his Instagram story yesterday to show off a large number of shoppers with captions such as ‘revenge dining’ and ‘revenge coffee gathering’. While most restaurants and catering premises enjoyed the spillover effect due to the opening of the LEGOLAND, it remains to be seen if more COVID-19 cases will happen again as K11 MUSEA has reported a string of COVID-19 cases under its belt since last year.
As the founder of the K11 brand and the successor to one of Hong Kong’s most elite family businesses, Adrian Cheng should have perhaps toned down the use of the languages such as ‘revenge dining’ and ‘revenge coffee gathering’, especially during the epidemic and in the aftermath of a recent massive outbreak at the mall. His ego was probably bruised after the mall was plagued with close to 60 COVID-19 cases. Many tenants were also concerned with the potential drop in visitor flow and the suspension of business for a week after the mall was closed due to the outbreak. As a figurehead, he should have been more socially responsible as not to resort to making such inconsiderate comments. Many of the shoppers were seen not maintaining social distancing as multiple areas in the mall were overcrowded with queues.
On 4th March, Adrian probably told his marketing team at K11 MUSEA to embark on a social media public relations stunt by posting a video of its robot sanitisation squad ‘waltzing through the Covid crisis’. On Adrian Cheng’s Instagram story, K11 MUSEA’s Facebook and Instagram pages, K11 MUSEA’s brand new fleet of robot cleaners flaunted their skills to disinfect the mall. The robot cleaners were even spotted amongst the crowd yesterday to boost confidence. However, regardless of how often these robots move around in the mall, an overcrowded space will increase the spread of virus. An infected patient with no symptoms can touch multiple surfaces including the elevator buttons, handrails/objects, toilets, restaurants around the mall and it takes only a few seconds for another visitor to touch the surface and get infected. The cleaners and the robots won’t be disinfecting every nook and corner of the mall every other second. The key to epidemic prevention is to minimise traffic and to exert crowd control by not using freebies to lure unwary visitors even though the mall can comply with all the CHP’s Health Advice on Prevention of Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) for Shopping Mall. COVID-19 virus simply does not follow protocols. Before the recent cluster outbreak at the mall, there were already more than 10 COVID-19 patients who visited since last year and it is pretty obvious that K11 MUSEA has been maintaining its ‘high sanitisation’ standard.
In January this year, respiratory medicine specialist Dr.Leung Chi-chiu said the government should limit the maximum number of shoppers during the Lunar New Year holidays, as the number of coronavirus cases was still high. However, the government did not heed his advice.
“I would not spend any more time than necessary at an indoor mall or store,” said epidemiologist Lisa Lee, a professor at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va., and a former official at the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States.
“Steer clear from anyone without a mask, and do not spend more than 15 minutes near others,” she said in an email to CBC News. In Canada, Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC ) also advised that Canadians avoid close-contact situations where they can’t keep two metres apart from other people, as well as skipping crowded places and closed spaces with poor ventilation.
So far, around 50 cases were linked to Mr.Ming’s Chinese Dining at K11 MUSEA. 2 customers who visited Cartier boutique inside the mall and its 2 employees were also infected. There was also one patient who visited Lilium by Gitone at Unit 509 of K11 MUSEA. A staff member at Twinkie Cookies at K11 MUSEA also tested positive. The research team at University of Hong Kong concluded that all the patients were traced to one ‘patient zero’ with no symptoms who visited the mall on 14th February who spread to all others including the two visitors of Cartier boutique, Mr.Ming’s Chinese Dining and Twinkie Cookies. The ‘patient zero’ has not been found until now. Meanwhile, the Centre for Health Protection also announced yesterday that two more COVID-19 patients visited the ground floor washroom at K11 MUSEA and watched a movie at level 4 of K11 MUSEA on 26th February. One of them also used the toilet on the 4th floor.
Earlier last week, the mall management was alleged to have terminated Mr.Ming’s Chinese Dining‘s lease in a surprise and shocking move to ‘cut its ties from the virus’. The move seems to reflect that the management’s policy to throw any tenant under the bus if they are found to be a ‘cancerous tumour’ that will affect its image. The spokesperson for Jonathan Bui, one of the owners of Mr. Ming’s Chinese Dining said he was startled by K11 MUSEA management’s unilateral announcement of the termination of the lease and thought it was unreasonable.
In response to the increasing number of confirmed cases in the “K11 MUSEA” cluster and in order to meet the needs of epidemic prevention, Chief Secretary for Administration, Matthew Cheung said today that the government has immediately expanded the notification network of the “LeaveHomeSafe” app to release K11 MUSEA related venue information for app users to download. From 19th to 26th February, citizens who have visited nearly 200 ‘high-risk’ venues in K11 MUSEA and scanned the app QR code will be notified of the risk of infection. Hence, there were at least 200 virus hotspots identified and Hong Kong citizens should exercise restraint and avoid going to K11 MUSEA when it’s overcrowded.
Meanwhile, Professor Yuen Kwok-yung, a government advisor and Chair Professor of the Department of Microbiology of the University of Hong Kong, also pointed out that the shopping mall was inspected by the Department of Buildings and the Department of Health and found that there was no problem with ventilation but there were 8 environmental samples tested positive for COVID-19 at Mr.Ming’s Chinese Dining. This proves that the environmental pollution is serious, which may be related to the ventilation of the restaurant. The positive samples include the air-conditioning dust filter, the handrail of the pantry trolley, and the location of the drainpipe of the pantry washbasin. CHP said that the department has not taken environmental samples from other places in the mall. So, it is unknown whether other areas were contaminated earlier.
At the same time, the authorities have also found that some patients were smokers, which does not rule out smoking as the cause of cross-infection. In addition, the authorities found a lot of cigarette butts at the air outlet of Mr.Ming’s Chinese Dining. It is suspected that some people smoked in the back alley behind the restaurant resulting in the spread of the virus. Professor Yuen estimated that some staff members were infected by inhaling virus-laden air from the air outlet when they were smoking cigarettes together in the back alley, or by discarding rubbish there. Another possibility for the spread of the virus is through the tea room where the staff made the tea and delivered to the customers who then got infected. Although there were some ‘No Smoking’ signs at the mall exits near the Avenue of Stars, there were still employees smoking and chatting oblivious to the warning yesterday afternoon.
Hong Kong citizens are vulnerable to freebies and new openings and the ‘revenge’ turnout at K11 MUSEA yesterday shows that financial rewards and new attraction outweigh the risk of virus spread. Even though it takes two to tango, the management of K11 MUSEA should not have resorted to an aggressive marketing campaign during this critical period when social distancing measures are crucial to keep the COVID-19 numbers at bay. It will be no surprise if more COVID-19 cases will erupt again at the mall and makes it more difficult to break its bad feng shui curse.