HONG KONG, Dec. 30 (Xinhua) - A big homemade meal, a quick shopping tour replete with face masks, and a long video call with his family in Italy, Fabrizio Goldoni's Christmas was prudent but pleasant in Hong Kong amid the COVID-19 epidemic.
But Goldoni could hardly remember how he spent the festivities last year. "I can't recall any celebrations. As violent incidents became a daily routine at that time, I don't think I was in the mood," the Italian expatriate, 59, said.
The global financial hub known for safety and freedom was gripped by social unrest in 2019 and continued to witness sporadic but still serious violence in the first half of 2020. For many, the memories were still fresh: huge crowds of rioters lighting subway entrances on fire and vandalizing shops, Molotov cocktails being hurled in the air, and innocent residents being beaten up.
Not only did ordinary people live in fear but the economy was severely battered due to the disturbances.
In popular shopping districts including Causeway Bay and Mong Kok, shops and restaurants were often forced to close in fear of being trashed by rioters, Tsoi Chung-kin, chairman of the Retail & Wholesale Trades Employees Association, said.
"When rioters went on the rampage on the streets, people dared not leave their homes, let alone go shopping," Tsoi recalled, adding that tourists also opted against Hong Kong in case they were caught up in the upheaval.
Hong Kong's GDP registered the sharpest-ever decline of 9.1 percent in the first quarter of this year, and jobs were lost at a worrying pace in a wide range of sectors from catering to aviation.
To make matters worse, the COVID-19 epidemic broke out and dealt another heavy blow to Hong Kong.
As pessimism was beginning to prevail, a turning point came in the form of the national security legislation being introduced mid-year.
The Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, China's top legislature, passed the Law of the People's Republic of China on Safeguarding National Security in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) on June 30.
The law takes aim at acts and activities endangering national security and has had a strong deterrent effect on violence and vandalism.
"You could almost feel on the day it (the law) was implemented that there was a sense of calm and restoration brought back to the city... and it (Hong Kong) has become more peaceful," Daniel Szuc, an Australian national living in Hong Kong for 22 years, said.
Szuc said it was a huge relief for him to see "very limited, almost zero, violence or disruption to the day today" and know that "people can get on and enjoy their lives again in Hong Kong without such troubles."
A safe and calm life gradually resumed.
"In this long-awaited peace, people can do business, go to work and go shopping without fear," Tsoi said, adding that although retailers still bore the brunt of COVID-19, the society has been put back on track and local consumption is gradually recovering.
The economic recession improved significantly during the July-Sept. period, with the GDP decline narrowing to 3.5 percent.
As long as the epidemic is under control and Hong Kong remains safe and stable, the economy will hopefully regain traction next year, Paul Chan, financial secretary of the HKSAR government, said earlier this month.
That traction will largely come from the Chinese mainland, the only major economy expected to register positive growth this year.
Thanks to the mainland's support, Hong Kong succeeded in retaining its competitiveness under "one country, two systems" and continued to thrive as an attractive global financial hub in 2020.
Nucleic testing professionals and medical materials from the mainland assisted in containing the spread of the novel coronavirus in Hong Kong. Mainland businesses made a major contribution to the Hong Kong stock exchange setting a new record in IPO fund-raising since 2010. In spite of travel curbs, burgeoning livestreaming e-commerce brought more Hong Kong products to mainland consumers.
When delivering the 2020 policy address in November, HKSAR Chief Executive Carrie Lam unveiled even more favorable measures from the central government to help Hong Kong's revival from the economic downturn, in particular the support for the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area development.
By further integrating into the broader landscape of the national development, Hong Kong will have a more stable environment, embrace enormous opportunities, and gain sustainable growth impetus, analysts said.
Eric Ching, 39, has a dream to realize in the Greater Bay Area, one of the most open and economically vibrant regions in the country.
As the president of the Hong Kong Youth E-commerce Advancement Association, Ching aims to help 10,000 Hong Kong e-commerce businesses tap into the Greater Bay Area market in the next five years.
His team has trained hundreds of young people under his e-commerce incubator program this year. One of the trainees has accumulated 140,000 followers on video-sharing app Douyin, which is also known for livestreaming e-commerce.
The e-commerce sector will be a practical and reliable starting point for the tech-savvy youth to stretch their wings in the Greater Bay Area, Ching said.
Goldoni also believes that Hong Kong has a vital role to play in the Greater Bay Area and has remained confident in Hong Kong's future.
Before the COVID-19 outbreak, the businessman traveled between Hong Kong and the mainland almost every week to visit factories and meet partners. After nearly a year stranded here, he cannot wait to restrengthen business links and seek new opportunities in the mainland's rapidly-evolving markets.
Starting a career here in trade and finance 28 years ago, Goldoni experienced Hong Kong's return to the motherland in 1997 and witnessed its continued prosperity over the past two decades. After all these years, it is the freedom, stability and opportunities that have made him decide to stay in Hong Kong.
"If Hong Kong had continued to see riots, I would have left for sure. But as peace returned, now I can see a future for this city," he said.