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Published: 00:23, March 02, 2022 | Updated: 09:41, March 02, 2022
Fifth COVID wave highlights the mainland's strong helping hand
By Quentin Parker
Published:00:23, March 02, 2022 Updated:09:41, March 02, 2022 By Quentin Parker

There are no easy answers and no good easy options to solutions that now confront the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region with this pernicious, mutating virus. Much of the rest of the world seems to be emerging into de facto acceptance of the pandemic threat from COVID-19. However, I think things may never get back to the old normal. This pandemic has changed things with long-term consequences for travel, trade and traditional behavior. There is talk of producing goods and services in more locally dominated ways.

This is as the disruption to global supply chains in a “just in time” delivery system has laid bare the fundamental weaknesses and in some cases the insanity of some unnecessary global trade in a world of climate change — think bottled water in plastic from exotic places. More self-reliance, self-control and self-sufficiency for more locally produced everything is getting traction. This one-in-a-century, global, existential ordeal may yet prove to be a blessing in disguise as the world is forced to reflect on its habits of excessive consumption and unfeterred exploitation of our finite natural resources. Perhaps this is a good thing and perhaps some positive outcomes will eventually flow from the pain and suffering we have endured in terms of more sensible choices for how we live and work in the future.

I pray our leaders will be blessed with the wisdom, foresight and science-guided sense to navigate a clear path to emerging from this pandemic as soon as possible

Hong Kong press column inches are full of words from experts, scientists, political hacks, interested parties and policy advocates, all with advice, opinion and “insights” against the background of this menacing fifth COVID-19 wave. To be honest, having seen what has been happening around the world since December 2019 in real COVID waves, HKSAR has had mere ripples on a pond. Such almost benign ripples perhaps sowed a sense of complacency that is now coming home to roost…

From a current Hong Kong perspective here, deaths are mounting rapidly. As a special administrative region of China, the city was dwarfed by the remarkable success achieved by her sister cities in the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area. These facts bestow the Chinese mainland a lion prize, given its 1.4 billion population, with deaths at only three per million — a truly remarkable achievement. It speaks to powerful state tools to enact robust containment policies that are very effective but difficult to implement elsewhere, including the HKSAR. 

In comparison, the wide differences in COVID-19 experiences seen across the globe, speak to delays, confusion, lack of timely action, poor use of and access to reliable data, the vagaries of politics and the malaise of complacency. Again, Hong Kong stands at the nexus of the two worlds while the West is still struggling to get back on track just as the successful Chinese mainland is lending massive helping hands from all directions to support the uphill battle in our city. 

So for Hong Kong, it is all about the robustness and effectiveness of locally enacted policies moving forward. There are multiple conundrums at play and multiple pressures and vested interests to address. There are also no easy answers to be had.

Hong Kong’s basic containment strategy worked well before the omicron variant which is sadly far more transmissible if less deadly than those that came before and so was far easier to escape and spread into the general population. The genie is now well and truly out of the bottle and will be extremely hard to tame. Perhaps a more agile, socially acceptable, adaptive, dynamic reduction and hopefully elimination program can be formulated to more vigorously tackle the reality on the ground in Hong Kong.

Beijing has come to the rescue with much-needed technical and practical support to help manage the immediate crises — a massive helping hand across the bay. New plans are being made, spirited discussions and creative solutions are watering down the rumors of an opaque future that are fomenting pessimism in communities when many international companies can no longer conduct their business effectively given the current stringent flight restrictions that could be reevaluated now that imported cases are massively outnumbered by transmission in the community. The HKSAR government should pay sufficient attention to the low morale as “COVID fatigue” takes its toll.

As a scientist, I tend to base most of my decision-making on verifiable evidence and critical thinking. But I am human, and emotion and hope play a role. So I suggest we must make allowance for our elderly folks’ reluctance to be vaccinated and find ways of incentivizing them. If it were me, I’d abandon the proposed HK$10,000 ($1,280) free for all voucher scheme and turn it into a “let’s kick the virus social responsibility amplifier” by giving vouchers only to vaccinated citizens. We need consistent, easy-to-understand messaging, robust, quick action, fairness, accountability and freedom from anti-vax conspiracy theory nonsense that has done such damage to efforts to get our older residents protected. We need a balanced approach that does the least possible damage to lives, jobs, mental health, industry and reputation. We cannot throw the baby out with the bathwater, but we also need to take sufficient measures to save the social vitality and creativity of our wonderful city.

I pray our leaders will be blessed with the wisdom, foresight and science-guided sense to navigate a clear path to emerging from this pandemic as soon as possible. Hopefully, it will be in a state that leaves us perhaps battered and bruised but ready, willing and still able to pick ourselves up, to reclaim our place and to dust ourselves down to work to retain our Hong Kong as a key global fintech and smart city hub that invests in its young people, protects the vulnerable, and respects our institutions.

The author is a professor in the Faculty of Science at the University of Hong Kong and the director of its Laboratory for Space Research.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

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