What our CE can learn from her Macau counterpart

February 06, 2020 15:59
People scramble for masks and other protective items at a shop in Hong Kong on Jan. 31. Macau has managed to guarantee stable and sufficient supply of face masks for its citizens, while the situation is different in neighboring Hong Kong. Photo: CNSA

As Special Administrative Regions of China with constant cross-border people flows, Hong Kong and Macau were equally vulnerable to the raging Wuhan pneumonia epidemic, and both cities recorded their first confirmed cases of infection on Jan. 22. 

However, while the Macau government has moved pro-actively in virus control efforts, the Hong Kong administration has been perceived as being sluggish in responding to the crisis.

In particular, one task where the Macau government has distinguished itself is that it has managed to guarantee stable and sufficient supply of face masks for its citizens. In contrast, in the neighboring Hong Kong, people had to scramble madly, and often hopelessly, for the masks ever since the coronavirus outbreak.

And one highly dramatic and stark contrast was evident on Tuesday, when leaders of the two cities both held separate press conferences to announce further measures on disease containment.

Macau Chief Executive Ho Iat-seng declared that all casinos in the city would be closed for at least two weeks, and urged his citizens to put on masks whenever going outdoors. But his Hong Kong counterpart, Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, ordered government staff not to wear surgical masks unless they feel unwell, have frontline duties or have to attend crowded places.

The Chief Executive’s Office later added that internal guidelines issued regarding the “no mask” order doesn’t apply to government employees who bring their own masks to work.

At a press conference on Wednesday, Lam, again appearing without a face mask, announced that the government will impose a 14-day mandatory quarantine on all people entering the city from China in a bid to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

The new quarantine measure, which will take effect from Saturday, covers all travelers from mainland China, including Hong Kong residents, mainland residents and other visitors.

At the Wednesday press conference, Lam apologized for her remarks on face masks, saying she was sorry for creating confusion and “not expressing herself clearly” on whether government workers should wear them.

Lam said the target of the remarks on Tuesday was principal officials, saying the officials at public events could take the lead in reducing the use of masks when it is not necessary to wear them.

Returning to Macau, Ho once again reassured his people on Tuesday that he will fulfill his pledge of providing them with 20 million masks in the coming days, and that his governing team will seek masks and other medical resources on the global market at all cost.

In contrast, Lam told us on Tuesday that the government’s attempts at buying more face masks overseas and from the mainland have largely gone without much success. Mentioning the surging global demand for masks, she urged citizens and government employees to be frugal when wearing them.

Admittedly, it would be pretty difficult for the Hong Kong government to make the same pledge on guaranteeing stable supply of face masks like the Macau administration did, given that Hong Kong's population is over 10 times larger than that of Macau.

Still, sometimes what really matters isn’t whether it can actually be done or not, but rather, whether the government is able to convince its people that it has their best interests at heart when formulating policies.

Ho, as a political leader, has fully and successfully demonstrated his unwavering commitment to prioritizing human lives, and hence his high popularity in Macau. As for Lam, there is clearly a lot of room for improvement in displaying such concern.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Feb 5

Translation by Alan Lee with additional reporting

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Hong Kong Economic Journal