Leverage 'two systems' to handle the virus crisis better

February 11, 2020 17:19
Hong Kong authorities have been accused of being sluggish in responding to the China coronavirus epidemic, in contrast to Macau. Photo: HKEJ

Macau's leader Ho Iat-seng has scored over his Hong Kong counterpart Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor when it comes to the fight against the Wuhan pneumonia epidemic.

Ho has earned a lot of praise for acting decisively when devising disease prevention measures, while Lam has come under fire for indecision and sluggishness in responding to the epidemic.

The different approaches suggest that the Macau government is way better than Hong Kong in terms of utilizing the flexibility under “one country, two systems”.

In particular, Ho and his administration have completely outdone Lam and her government in securing the supply of masks for the general public.

A Hong Kong government spokesman said late on Monday that the administration “has been adopting a multi-pronged approach to procure surgical masks globally through different channels and means.”

"As the supply of surgical masks is tight in the short run, the government considers that it is more pragmatic to strive to increase supply of surgical masks and manage the demand. The government currently does not have any plans to mandatorily control the supply and prices of surgical masks through legislation, because this could be counterproductive, rather than addressing the problem at source, i.e. inadequate supply,” the spokesman said.

Speaking to media on Tuesday before an Executive Council meeting, Lam reiterated that the administration currently has no plans to mandatorily control the supply, allocation and prices of surgical masks.

The government will work night and day to procure masks globally, and offer full co-operation to boost local production of the items, the chief executive said.

Frankly speaking, the reason why Macau's Ho is highly regarded by his people isn’t because he has done a really extraordinary job in combating the disease -- after all, his only “outside-the-box” move is to order all casinos in Macau to close for two weeks -- but because he has made good use of the flexibility under “two systems”.

For instance, Macau had said in January that it would deny entry to visitors from China's Hubei province or those who visited the province in 14 days prior to arrival in Macau, unless the visitors can provide documentation showing that they are not infected with the virus that broke out in the province.

The Macau government also said it is banning anyone who had been to Hubei province, within 14 days prior to their arrival, from the premises of the city’s casinos, Reuters news agency had reported.

By contrast, just look at a long obligation list recently put out by Lam, i.e. the central government, the Guangdong provincial administration, the National Immigration Administration, the Guangdong border control authorities, the Zhuhai customs service, the China Railway, the Civil Aviation Administration of China, etc, and one can easily tell that the Hong Kong government simply dare not make any decision before getting the green light from Beijing.

In our view, if the Hong Kong government wants to avoid losing the public's trust, whatever little is left of it, making proper and normal use of the freedom of manoeuver under “two systems” is what it needs to do.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Feb 10

Translation by Alan Lee with additional reporting

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Hong Kong Economic Journal