Diplomacy in the time of COVID-19: Canada engaging in social media ‘caremongering’

The consulate urges all fellow Canadians to follow official social media channels for up to date information, advice and positivity.

Photo: Mr Jeff Nankivell, the Consul General of Canada to Hong Kong and Macao.

A quick adopter of social technology, the Canadian Consulate General in Hong Kong uses social media channels to get official information out to Canadians across the globe. The consulate runs active bilingual accounts on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. While their pages are normally filled with tasty Canadian treats, Canada has harnessed the power of social media to provide instant up to date information on their consulate services and advice from the Canadian home office. 

Consulate staff have also been engaging in an official capacity in the Canadian “caremongering” campaign where individuals can solicit help or offer voluntary services on Facebook groups, and also in morning workouts with the Canadians #StrongerTogether Facebook group.

Canada and Hong Kong have a strong mutual friendship built on the relationships between people – lots of them. The SAR is home to the largest Canadian community abroad (by city) and the largest Canadian Chamber of Commerce outside Canada.

The current Consul General is Mr Jeff Nankivell, who has a long relationship with Asia both professionally and personally. He first visited East Asia in 1990 to study Mandarin in Hong Kong. Bringing with him a passion for Ice Hockey, he played casually in Taikoo City Plaza’s rink – now the ICE PALACE.

Now fluent in Mandarin, Mr Nankivell served three times at the Canadian Embassy in Beijing. During his first stint from 1991 to 1995, he balanced his time working with the embassy’s Development Assistance section while being part of the Canadain Embassy Ice Hockey team for the annual ‘Summit Series’ against the Russian Embassy.

He returned to Beijing in 2000 as the Deputy Head of Mission, where he helped build Sports Beijing, an organisation for expats to come together for little-league hockey, baseball, and football. By his third stint there in 2008, Beijing had three full men’s hockey leagues. The Consul of Hockey finally returned to Hong Kong in 2016 not only to serve as the Consul General but also to play in the South China Ice Hockey League, reuniting with the same players he met in the 90s.

Catch Mr Nankivell with Harbour Times Editor-in-Chief Andrew Work on the latest podcast episode of Across the Pond Hockey Talks, available on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

What functions have you stopped or slowed in your office on the consular, trade, immigration or other fronts?

As you can imagine, there have been many changes to our usual activities in recent weeks, with many of our staff working from home. Visits by Canadian delegations to Hong Kong have ceased due to travel restrictions and event cancellations.

However, despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Consulate General of Canada in Hong Kong and Macao is continuing to provide full consular services to Canadians.

What kind of outreach measures has the office carried out to make services accessible to your nationals? Were any additional resources created to accommodate for the virus situation?

As we continue to provide consular services, we have also been observing the public health authority of Hong Kong’s recommendations for social distancing to reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus. We appreciate the understanding and cooperation shown by Canadians and other clients requiring our services as we adjust our business model to the environment created by the pandemic. 

We continue to use our social media channels to keep fellow Canadians and our friends from Hong Kong and Macao informed about the COVID-19 situation and how certain measures may impact them. As the situation is constantly changing, following us on social media and keeping an eye on the Government of Canada’s COVID-19 website are some of the best ways to obtain the most up-to-date information.     

Additionally, our multi-skilled staff members are also providing additional support to Canada’s global network of diplomatic missions. Global Affairs Canada systems make it possible for certain emergency assistance requests from Canadians located in other parts of the world to be processed in Hong Kong, and many of our staff from different teams have volunteered to assist. 

One example of this collaboration is the help offered to Canadian travellers abroad who are in need of immediate financial assistance. The Government of Canada has created the COVID-19 Emergency Loan Program for Canadians Abroad, which provides eligible Canadians with an emergency loan to return home or to temporarily cover their life-sustaining needs while they work toward their return. 

It is extremely important to be able to work as a team in situations such as these, and I am extremely thankful that my colleagues have stepped up to help.  

What activities have increased?

Canada has implemented new border measures, including new quarantine measures that affect travellers coming to Canada. These measures are recent and unprecedented, and we have seen a significant increase in enquiries from Canadians and Hongkongers alike on how these new travel restrictions affect them. To address this, we have redirected some of our resources to support our teams responsible for dealing with enquiries of this kind and for assisting Canadians. 

We are aware of how social distancing and self-isolation measures have an impact on mental health, so our office is taking part in the “caremongering” movement that was started by Canadians back home. In addition to sharing important updates on the COVID-19 situation, our social media channels also feature positive stories from communities in Canada and Hong Kong. We took part in the “Canadians #StrongerTogether” online event where Canadians around the world gathered online for a morning/evening workout and our office is putting together a series called #ConGenRecommends in which we share “staff picks” for Canadian books, films, music, etc., that you can check out while staying at home. 

How do you reconcile work from home measures and security?

The health and safety of our employees, and that of our clients, is our top priority. As we continue to provide services, we have also been observing the public health authority of Hong Kong’s recommendations for social distancing to reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus.

On top of social distancing rules, colleagues working from home are required to abide by the same security measures as they do at the office. 

Do you have anything else you’d like to add about Canada’s efforts fighting COVID-19?

In this age, we are often overwhelmed by too much information, or even by misinformation. The Consulate General cannot stress enough the importance for Canadians and others of consulting reputable sources of information. I invite fellow Canadians and Hongkongers to follow us on our social media channels – we are on Facebook and Twitter – and to regularly check our website for the most up-to-date and authoritative information from the Government of Canada. For details on Canada’s response to COVID-19, including new border measures, travel advice, awareness resources and additional assistance provided to Canadians during this extraordinary time, please visit canada.ca/coronavirus and check back regularly for updates. It is a very useful information hub for Canadians at home and abroad!

Anything you would like to say to your fellow Canadians in Hong Kong?

We strongly urge Canadians to register with the Registration of Canadians Abroad service at https://travel.gc.ca/travelling/registration. The service is free, confidential and allows the Government of Canada to notify you of important information.

Currently, 3,824 Canadians are registered with the Consulate General of Canada in Hong Kong and Macao, which we think represents less than two percent of the estimated number of Canadian citizens in Hong Kong. 

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the author

Cyril is a freelance writer from Hong Kong with an interest in local culture and identity. He obtained his degree in Music and Drama from the University of Birmingham with a dissertation on Hong Kong and Macau’s musical culture and identity. Outside of writing, Cyril is heavily involved in the local performance arts scene.