Published: 11:47, March 9, 2022 | Updated: 11:52, March 9, 2022
PDF View
At core of pandemic fight, residents must not panic
By Shamim Ashraf

Family members wearing protective masks walk on a street in Hong Kong, March 6, 2022. (VINCENT YU / AP)

When a sudden increase in the COVID-19 caseload in January sent panic down the spines of hitherto unperturbed Hong Kong residents like me, we had good reason to try to scramble to safety. And our first and foremost concern was for the weakest members of our families, in my case my unvaccinated under-7 child. We had been looking forward to the launch of BioNTech vaccines for children aged as young as 5. But soon after online registration began on Feb 16, I found all slots had already been snapped up. All my agonizing efforts to find a slot bore no fruit. I also tried registering for the vaccine through my son’s school group booking. That also didn’t work out. After a few days, I stopped trying. On Feb 24, my son tested positive for the virus. All this time, health officials were encouraging people to vaccinate the children.

When the government’s testing and contact tracing capacity became overwhelmed, and hospitals became overstretched and isolation facilities filled, people were discouraged from going to hospital if they were asymptomatic or had mild symptoms. After my family members tested positive recently using rapid antigen test kits at home, I ran to several government-designated points to collect kits for saliva tests but found the machines used for distributing the kits were already empty. I tried frantically to register the infections and seek help with isolation from the government’s 1836 119 hotline. After two days of trying, I succeeded well after midnight in getting through to an agent who said they can’t consider the RAT test as official, and who advised me to do a saliva test. Just imagine, my COVID positive young son was then shaking in bed with a temperature of over 40 degrees after vomiting. I tried to contact government clinics designated to handle COVID-19 patients with mild symptoms. But all their telephone lines always seemed engaged. Like thousands of new COVID patients, we were advised not to go to a hospital. We were at a loss, with so many government departments sending out diverse kinds of instructions while struggling to serve critical patients with their limited resources. 

Luckily, all four in my family have now recovered. But after talking with some other COVID patients, I felt the government should disseminate reader-friendly information packs touching on all the related topics.

I know infection induces antibodies in our bodies, creating some immunity. But how long does that last? There is definitely a need for someone like my unvaccinated son who has already been infected to take the jabs. But how long should he wait after testing negative to take the vaccine? And should he take just one dose, or two doses? And what about elderly people? Should they take a booster dose too? Or a fourth one? And how long should they wait between doses? Also, how effective are the vaccines in protecting recipients against other variants?

The new platform launched Monday to self-report COVID infections using RAT kits allows only those who tested positive between Feb 26 and March 5. What about others whose tests at home were positive before Feb 26 and who, by now, test negative? And how can someone testing at home get a negative test certificate if they need to produce one for some official purpose?

The government currently has several hotlines for COVID patients, like 1836 119 to register an infection and 1836 115 for a doctor’s remote consultation. The Fire Services Department also allows patients to request spots in community isolation centers by sending a message over WhatsApp, WeChat or email. Couldn’t there be one unified platform which would enable a large number of people to communicate?

There has also been a lot of confusion over the planned citywide testing which might involve a lockdown. Confused, residents emptied the shelves in supermarkets in a panic-buying spree fearing that they wouldn’t be able to go out to buy essentials. The government should reveal details of the lockdown, and give the public some idea of its timing as early as possible, so that we can prepare well. 

In Hong Kong’s pandemic fight, residents have always played a very important role. The government must allay people’s fear and confusion as soon as possible in this struggle against the fifth wave.

Contact the writer at