22 April 2019
Secretary for Food and Hygiene, Dr. Ko Wing-man, said urging Hong Kong people to put on surgical masks to avoid infection might lead to “interpersonal alienation” in society. Photo: Reuters
Secretary for Food and Hygiene, Dr. Ko Wing-man, said urging Hong Kong people to put on surgical masks to avoid infection might lead to “interpersonal alienation” in society. Photo: Reuters

How political fight delays HK response to flu epidemic

Since the Occupy Movement ended, our society has witnessed a deterioration of the deep-rooted social conflicts exposed during the protests, thanks to the bellicose regime of Leung Chun-ying which embraces the art of political struggle and deliberately ignores some urgent issues that are already affecting hundreds of thousands of lives on a daily basis.

Among those issues are the recent outbreak of the so-called H3N2 Swiss flu epidemic, which has so far claimed 173 lives within just a month, and the rampant grey goods trading across the border that has haunted residents of the North West New Territories for years.

The prolonged disputes over political reform, which are currently at a stalemate, have nothing to do with the pressing issues affecting the normal lives of many of our fellow citizens.

I sincerely hope that Leung Chun-ying, who is so obsessed with power struggle, can at least spare some time to find a solution to the highly urgent issues facing our society.

In fact, the H3N2 outbreak and grey goods trade in North West New Territories are inter-related, as the increase in cross-border traffic is likely to worsen the outbreak and infect more people, especially during the peak period covering the Lunar New Year holiday.

Back in early January, when H3N2 was just beginning to spread in the community, the government did not publish any details concerning the outbreak, nor did it proactively alert the public to the danger of the deadly disease.

It was not until the end of January, when the death toll rose to almost 70, that the flu outbreak started to receive widespread media coverage.

Our Secretary for Food and Hygiene, Dr. Ko Wing-man, who is supposed to be in charge of containing epidemics, probably would have remained as complacent as ever if lawmaker Kwok Ka-ki did not draw public attention to the menace by making an urgent inquiry into the state of the outbreak at the Legislative Council.

To make matters worse, in his oral answer to Dr. Kwok’s question, Secretary Ko defended his decision not to urge the local population to put on surgical masks in public places to avoid infection by ridiculously arguing that such move might lead to “interpersonal alienation” in society.

The fact that the government has deliberately tried to play down the severity of the outbreak has put the entire population at high risk.

Even though the government has already placed orders for more vaccines, they will not be delivered until April, which means we will remain at the mercy of the H3N2 virus at least throughout spring.

On the other hand, since the number of H3N2 infection cases has far exceeded that of SARS, and many of the more vulnerable patients, especially children and the elderly, often deteriorate quickly after infection, the H3N2 virus is indeed as lethal as the SARS.

According to the estimation of Professor Yuen Kwok-yung of the School of Microbiology at the University of Hong Kong, the current outbreak has yet to reach its peak, and over the next four to six weeks, it is likely that 400 more people will die of the H3N2 infection.

If the second wave of the outbreak occurs in the summer of this year, the death toll is likely to rise to 600.

Let’s not forget the SARS death toll was 299 over a span of around three months back in 2003, and the number of people who died of the recent flu outbreak is already pushing 200 just within a little more than one month.

The situation is obviously alarming, and it’s hard to imagine any responsible government that really cares about its people’s lives would remain indifferent and do nothing about it.

On the other hand, when Leung Chun-ying attended the Executive Council meeting on Tuesday, he claimed that the government was deeply concerned about the nuisance caused by grey goods traders to residents in the NW New Territories.

Yet all he did was pay lip service without coming up with real measures that can ease the situation.

He also overlooked the potential danger of cross infection among local citizens and mainlanders. As we all know, the grey goods trade that has already reached crisis levels has its roots in the policy of granting “multiple-entry permits”.

It’s obvious the administration can never stem the tide of grey goods trade unless it stops issuing these permits to mainlanders.

After the Occupy Movement, Leung Chun-ying and his pawns have been devoting most of their time and effort to political persecution of his opponents and pro-democracy activists. They simply turned a blind eye to the epidemic or even tried to cover it up.

The pan-democratic politicians are no better. While the moderates are busy playing the role of middlemen in twisting the Hong Kong people’s arm to accept the fake election in 2017, the hawks are staging protests and trying to cut a deal with the administration.

To them, the life and death issue of our fellow citizens is simply irrelevant.

In contrast, the radicals seem to be much more sensitive to the public sentiment and are able to create resonance through real action.

Unless the pan-democrats immediately get down to real business and start addressing the urgent issues that have already caused so much public anger, voters are likely to teach them a lesson in the upcoming District Council election and the Legco election next year.

Simply put, it’s the livelihood issue, not politics, stupid!

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Feb. 13.

Translation by Alan Lee

– Contact us at [email protected]


Former radio talk show host; Columnist at the Hong Kong Economic Journal

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