While there may be a rebound in the epidemic situation after the Mid-autumn Festival, Hong Kong must unswervingly adhere to targeted anti-epidemic strategies
There were some 9,033 confirmed cases of Covid-19 infection in Hong Kong yesterday, which was a new low in more than a week. But some expert(s) warned that there could still be a rebound in the epidemic situation after the Mid-autumn Festival. We must not lower our guard as the vaccination coverage for both the elderly and children is still quite low. On the other hand, as the government has recently kept easing quarantine measures for inbound travelers, imported cases are likely to steadily increase. In accordance with such a new situation and the need to boost economic development, the government must firmly stick to its anti-epidemic goal and truly implement precision-guided anti-epidemic measures. At the same time, it should proactively draw on the experiences of other regions to make good preparations for the next-stage epidemic prevention and control.
During a certain period of time in the past, the daily number of confirmed cases in Hong Kong remained about 10,000, staying at a high level. Professor Lau Yu Lung, a member of the government's Expert Advisory Panel, said that the percentage of the variants Omicron BA.4 or BA.5 now already exceeds 75, and as such, according to experiences in other regions, the daily number of confirms cases will reach its peak in a week's time and then slowly come down. Experts have their criteria for making their judgments. But whether the number of confirmed cases would drop"in time" as expected, there are still quite a lot of uncertain factors. In particular, after the implementation of eased quarantine measures for inbound travelers, the daily cases may still possibly swing up and down a bit for a relatively long period of time
Objectively speaking, affected by multiple factors such as the lingering epidemic and worsening external environment, Hong Kong's economy is under heavy pressures. By July, housing price in the city has gone down over five percent from its high in last September, and the volume of transactions dropped about 40 per cent in August year on year. Moreover, Hong Kong's stock market remains rather weak. All this dampens consumer and economic sentiments. Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po wrote [in his Blog] yesterday that"We all understand that effective control of the epidemic is most fundamental to stabilising the economy… It is true that striking a balance between keeping the epidemic under control on the one hand, and facilitating travel and maintaining the economy on the other, is extremely challenging," and only by"further enhancing vaccination coverage would we have the greatest flexibility" to restore exchanges with other places and stabilise the economy.
It is not necessarily a"mission impossible" to keep the epidemic under control and at the same time boost economic development. To take Japan for an example, its government said yesterday it was reviewing its border control policy of keeping daily entries below 50,000 and would remove the entry cap in the "not so distant future". In addition, the Japanese government may simultaneously relax entry visa rules and allow foreign tourists to travel in the country without a tour guide. It seem as if Japan was to completely give up its epidemic control, but in fact its fight against the virus is to be more"precisely targeted".
Specifically, upon arrival, a tourist must download three mobile applications including MySOS and COCOA. The former is for collecting the app user's vaccination record and personal data while the latter for tracing their whereabouts. If two or more users stay together with a distance of no more than one metre between them for 15 minutes or longer, and afterwards a confirmed case is found among them, all others would be promptly notified. On the other hand, while foreign tourists may travel without a tour guide, they have to book air tickets and lodgings through travel agencies and provide contact information so that they could be reached at any moment. Otherwise, they will be denied entry into the country. Anyone who fails to download the above-mentioned applications or provide precise information could be repatriated and their visa be cancelled.
Japan's measures to prevent importations of cases of infection are"strict and severe", but its practice to trace a person's real-time whereabouts is never been questioned. What many Hong Kong citizens care about is whether they can enter into Japan rather than whether their whereabouts would be traced. This shows a shortcoming in Hong Kong's epidemic control. We can draw on foreign countries' location-tracing practices. If, in a time to come, Hong Kong needs to further relax its quarantine rules for inbound travelers, then we must enhance relevant supporting policies to make sure an effective location-tracing mechanism is in place.
What Hong Kong is facing is a tough situation. It is extremely not easy to keep the epidemic under control and at the same time boost economic development. However, regarding this matter, a clear distinction between the primary and the secondary must be drawn. In the final analysis, to bring the epidemic under control is to tackle the problem at its roots. A safe and reliable way is to gradually promote and increase exchanges with other places only when the epidemic situation is truly under control. Surely this is not meant that Hong Kong should take passive policies to cope with the situation let alone close its doors to keep itself to itself. The SAR Government must work out more"precisely targeted" anti-epidemic policies with more proactive supporting and effective measures. Only by taking a multi-pronged approach starting with boosting vaccination coverage, can Hong Kong step into a route of fighting against the virus in a more"precisely targeted"way.
12 September 2022