Published: 20:28, October 17, 2022 | Updated: 20:33, October 17, 2022
John Lee needs to act on many fronts to turn a new page for HK
By Jo Lee

Unlike his hard-pressed predecessor, Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu has inherited a city whose order and stability have been restored thanks to the loyal valor of the Hong Kong Police Force and the promulgation of the National Security Law for Hong Kong.

But now, he has no excuse but to restore the city fully to its former glory after the challenges of the violent unrest of 2019 and the COVID-19 pandemic. He will present his first Policy Address on Wednesday, his blueprint in the coming year. He has his work cut out for him.

Ending the hotel quarantine for arrivals has been a crucial first step in reopening Hong Kong to the world, but we need a road map on how to lift the remaining restrictions to revive the city as an international financial hub.

Some foreign businesses have relocated their regional main offices from Hong Kong; and some are reluctant to move in. They need clearer guidance on what our anti-pandemic policy is, going forward. Likewise, we need clearer guidance on when and how quarantine-free travel can be restored between Hong Kong and the mainland.

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It’s been a matter of national policy to integrate the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region into the high-growth region of the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area. So long as travel restrictions remain, integration will take longer than necessary.

Ending the hotel quarantine for arrivals has been a crucial first step in reopening Hong Kong to the world, but we need a road map on how to lift the remaining restrictions to revive the city as an international financial hub

Recently, Singapore jumped to third place behind New York and London in the latest Global Financial Centres Index, placing it ahead of Hong Kong. One reason, for sure, is that the Lion City lifted COVID-19 restrictions and reopened international travel earlier. But as a market for initial public offerings, Hong Kong is still light-years ahead of Singapore. As usual, those who write off Hong Kong’s status as a financial hub will again prove to be way off the mark.

Lee needs to reaffirm the housing commitments his predecessors Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor and Leung Chun-ying had previously made. This especially applies to public housing. The current 6.1-year average waiting time is unacceptable. After more than two decades of official avowals to phase out so-called “cage homes”, these and subdivided flats with squalid conditions are still home to more than 200,000 residents.

To meet housing demands and integrate with Shenzhen as part of the GBA, planning and building for the Northern Metropolis in New Territories North, first announced by Lam, needs to proceed full steam ahead.

The public medical system was pushed to its limits during the recent outbreaks of COVID-19 variants. It also means many specialist services have been delayed, some involving life-saving operations. There has also been an exodus of personnel either to private medical services or emigrate overseas. The first step in easing the hiring of foreign-trained doctors and nurses has been taken. But to ease current staff shortages, a more-efficient system is urgently needed.

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The official Healthcare Manpower Projection estimated that the Hospital Authority, which oversees all the public hospitals, had a shortage of 660 specialists in 2020. If the current trend continues, the shortage is expected to reach 800 in 2030, and 960 in 2040.

In a positive sign, it’s been reported that Lee is set to announce setting up a new primary healthcare authority with an independent budget to ease the burden on the public sector. If true, it will be the most significant medical reform in more than a decade. This could mean more support would be given to the training of new nurses and closer collaboration between medical and other care professionals, something that is in line with developments in many advanced economies.

Meanwhile, the city is going through a mild recession. Tourism, retail, hotel, catering and transportation have been especially hard-hit during the pandemic. Reviving the economy is therefore imperative, and helping those sectors is especially important to ease unemployment.

Growing up in Hong Kong in recent years has been tough for many young people. In partnership with the private sector, the government must spare no efforts and resources with policies to improve education, employment, entrepreneurship and home-buying opportunities for our youth.

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However, a whole generation of young people has been misguided by foreign influences, some local politicians and news-media owners. To guide them back to the right track, more and better programs need to be developed at school to inculcate patriotism and greater understanding of China, its history and culture. They have an exciting time ahead, if only they know how to explore opportunities up north. A new and strong Chinese mainland truly beckons.

From the start, Lee has said his administration will be “results-oriented”. As the first chief executive who will be relatively free of constant foreign interference and local political obstructions, he is luckier than his predecessors. Given a free hand and with the full support of Beijing, we will soon see how much and how far he delivers.

The author has been a senior writer for a number of leading publications, including Oriental Daily.