Carrie gives herself top marks amid virus crisis. Yes, really

February 07, 2020 13:10
Shoppers walk past empty toilet paper shelves at a supermarket in Hong Kong on Feb. 6. A scarcity of masks amid the China coronavirus outbreak has led to panic buying of all forms of basic necessities. Photo: Reuters

This column is dedicated to the memory of Dr Li Wenliang, who died from the effects of the coronavirus on Thursday after being on the frontline of the medical battle in Wuhan and courageously trying to warn fellow doctors of the disease in December before being stopped.

Carrie Lam, the Chief Executive in Name Only (CENO), has achieved the almost impossible feat of transforming her low credibility ratings to somewhere below zero. Do I exaggerate? Only slightly. If a scintilla of doubt persists over her inability to cope with this massive crisis just consider what she had to say during a press conference on Wednesday this week:

"I don't want to particularly describe how well my government has been doing, but certainly we are acting in accordance with a strategy which is to protect the safety and the health of Hong Kong."
Delusional doesn't even come close to describing the bizarre world inhabited by the CENO.

Outside in the real world of Hong Kong, people are living under the shadow of the Wuhan Coronavirus; some have been infected, others fear infection. There is a shortage of basic protective goods. Businesses throughout Hong Kong have closed their doors, employees have been laid off or are having to go without pay. All institutions of education have been closed down. Basic government services have been withdrawn. Public events have been cancelled – the list goes on and on.

Yet the CENO actually believes the government is doing a grand job. Even those who used to belong to something called the pro-government camp have given up pretending that they support her.

Let us now contemplate 'how well the government is doing'.

First up came denial – until the line changed in Beijing, the CENO and her waxworks toed the line that there was nothing much to worry about because Mainland officials had everything under control.

Then came admission that, yes, just maybe, there was indeed a problem but that hardly meant much in the way of proactive measures.

When, crab-like, the Hong Kong government finally inched towards action it did so in unbelievable ways. First up were palpably barmy plans to locate quarantine centers close to residential locations. Obviously this did not include the spacious residential zones housing the rich and powerful when there was scope for proximity to ordinary working people.

As all of China’s neighbors closed their borders to thwart the spread of the disease, including North Korea, Vietnam and Russia, the CENO, petrified of anything that might annoy her bosses in Beijing, refused to act. As public pressure mounted, with agonizing reluctance the government started closing down entry points and then came up with a plan to quarantine everyone entering Hong Kong from the Mainland.

It’s a big step and with the kind of relentless incompetence which has become the hallmark of the Lam administration, it’s a step being taken without the smallest indication of how it is to be implemented. This either means that the waxworks who surround her have no idea of what to do or what they are planning is so outrageous that she thinks it best to tell nobody about it until the last minute.

Meanwhile, utterly exasperated staff in public hospitals have walked off the job, urging a clean cut shutting of the border to human traffic. Their insistence on this simple, albeit drastic, solution is backed by disease control specialists. But the CENO, who claims to be in ‘humble’ listening mode, will not even talk to strikers' representatives. Instead, she says, they should take this up with the Hospital Authority’s human resources people. Last time I looked the Authority had no power whatsoever over border control – so what exactly would they be talking about?

Then there is the fraught matter of preventative measures. Masks and alcohol-based disinfectant are widely considered to be vital. But stocks have evaporated. A government promise last week to find millions of masks has produced absolutely nothing.

So, the CENO came up with the bright idea of saying that masks were not necessary and made it clear that, to set an example, her civil servants were 'not allowed' to wear masks in the course of their normal duties. This produced such a big uproar, forcing an immediate backtrack but the dear old CENO cannot even backtrack properly.

She started by claiming that she was only talking about government-supplied masks. If civil servants could get hold of private stock, that would be okay. Then she said she was only talking about senior civil servants and then she admitted that there may well have been a ‘misunderstanding’ so the words ‘not allowed’ could be better interpreted as ‘allowed’.

For many however this is entirely academic because it's almost impossible to find masks. Yet, the government has powers under the Reserved Goods Ordinance not only to secure supplies – if only the muppets knew how to look for them – but also to control prices, allocation and distribution. This readymade framework for reducing the mask panic is sitting unused. Why not?

A scarcity of masks and disinfectant has now led to panic buying of all forms of other basic necessities. The reason for this is that the public have no confidence in the ability of the government to keep supplies flowing.

And so it goes on but as Mrs Lam sits in her massive mansion, under tight police protection, presumably with enough toilet paper to hand, the rest of Hong Kong wonders how much worse things can get. The answer, lamentably, is this: brace for even worse in the days ahead.

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Hong Kong-based journalist, broadcaster and book author. His latest book, Defying the Dragon – Hong Kong and the world’s largest dictatorship, will be published by Hurst Publishers in early 2021.