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Published: 00:38, February 15, 2022 | Updated: 17:37, February 15, 2022
HKSAR needs precision and strategy to fight COVID-19
By Ho Lok-sang
Published:00:38, February 15, 2022 Updated:17:37, February 15, 2022 By Ho Lok-sang

China is renowned for its achievement in extreme poverty eradication. In fighting poverty, China has adopted a strategy called “targeted poverty alleviation”. Hong Kong needs a similar kind of thinking to lift our city out of today’s difficulties.

Our government has decided that we should adopt the “dynamic zero tolerance” strategy, which has allowed the Chinese mainland to effectively contain local infections. Only a few days ago, an editorial from Bloomberg with the title “Why the World Needs China’s Covid-Zero Policy” argues that without China’s strict and strategic policy to contain COVID-19 on the Chinese mainland, “there would have been a massive surge in infections and deaths that could bring global supply chains to a halt, sending inflation higher”. Hong Kong, as an international city, of course cannot survive in isolation from the world. But the dynamic zero tolerance policy allows us to buy time so that we can eventually open up more or less completely, not only to the mainland, but also to the rest of the world. Still, we really do need “precision”, “design thinking” and “strategy” in fighting COVID-19. Let me explain.

The government should ensure the safety of, and prevent transmission of the disease among, those under quarantine, and maintain adequate social distancing when people gather together waiting for tests or for vaccination. Food and other supplies must be delivered promptly

We need precision, and that means two important things. First is that we do not want to do too much, so that we would be needlessly imposing pain on ourselves. Second is that we need to leave no loopholes, so that we would plug any loophole and would not take chances.

I would argue that the broad-brush decision to close down all eateries after 6 pm is needlessly adding pain to our economy and hurting our resilience. It is just not logical that infections are more likely after 6 pm than before, if we maintain the social-distancing rules. I would also argue that it is entirely fine to allow a family to eat out together, as long as the patrons at the same table are all members of the family who live under one roof. I cannot understand why a family of five who would eat together at home cannot be allowed to eat together in a restaurant. Cinemas should also be allowed to operate, as long as social distancing is adequate. For example, the same venue may be allowed to accommodate a maximum of, say, one-third of its normal capacity. We may also allow cinemas to increase the ticket prices. I am sure many Hong Kong people would be happy to pay more to watch a movie in a cinema in safety.

We need to leave no loopholes. Some loopholes were so obvious that it is surprising they were allowed. Home quarantine for high-risk people when there are other family members in the same flat must be a time bomb. A COVID-19-positive patient traveling by public transport to the hospital must be a time bomb. Allowing a COVID-19-positive patient to live together with uninfected family members for days must be a time bomb. The government needs to be proactive and plug all loopholes that still exist.

I found one definition of “design thinking” on the internet. “It is an iterative process in which we seek to understand the user, challenge assumptions, and redefine problems in an attempt to identify alternative strategies and solutions that might not have been instantly apparent with our initial level of understanding. At the same time, design thinking provides a solution-based approach to solving problems.” From the same source, it is noted that designers look for “human-centered techniques to solve problems in a creative and innovative way”. Design thinking means that policymakers must put themselves in the shoes of those who are affected, and proactively attempt to solve the problems that could arise. The government should ensure the safety of, and prevent transmission of the disease among, those under quarantine, and maintain adequate social distancing when people gather together waiting for tests or for vaccination. Food and other supplies must be delivered promptly.

Strategic thinking must involve intelligent utilization of all resources at one’s command for an identified goal. The special administrative region government should draw on resources from all over China if there is a need. When COVID-19 erupted in Wuhan, manpower and resources from all over China came to Wuhan to help. Asking for help is not a problem because we have a relatively big population living in a city, and we are mainly an international financial center and business center. It is understandable that we are not well-equipped to deal with contingencies such as what we are facing.

Strategic thinking also means that we need to act quickly before it is too late. The lockdown of Wuhan happened very fast, and it caught the world by surprise. The lockdown was implemented on Jan 23, 2020. The World Health Organization called it “unprecedented in public health history”. The Singaporean Chinese-language newspaper Lianhe Zaobao reported on Jan 1, 2022, that Xi’an accounted for 161 COVID-19 cases among a total of 166 local infections on the Chinese mainland two days before. It was not a big number, but the city acted quickly, and contained the infections within days.

The author is director of the Pan Sutong Shanghai-HK Economic Policy Research Institute, Lingnan University.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

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