Amongst all jurisdictions, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of China has been one of the most effective in limiting cases of COVID-19, despite being one of the first places to be affected by the pandemic in early 2020. In the months since the first case was confirmed, COVID-19 has affected all aspects of Hong Kong society, including the higher education sector. In this collective reflective essay, we describe the effects of these unexpected external events on academics' lives and the responses of higher education institutions. Specifically, we address the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on academics, their professional relationships, institutional frameworks, and Hong Kong's higher education sector as a whole. We conclude that the most significant effect of the pandemic is uncertainty, together with new realities expressed in sayings such as 'living with Zoom, learning from webinars'; 'you will be informed "in due course"', stay calm "until further notice"'; and 'people are stuck, but business is on steroids'. The essay further describes a three-pronged institutional reaction to the pandemic, focused on control, support, and positioning. It concludes with critical views on the way 'useful' knowledge in today's higher education is defined and how concepts and practices have been challenged during the pandemic. Copyright © 2021 Routledge.