Why business community isn't happy with govt amid virus crisis

February 14, 2020 16:57
Princess Margaret Hospital and the Infectious Disease Centre is seen in a picture. HK authorities have been accused of not doing enough to ensure sufficient stocks of protective gear for healthcare workers amid the virus outbreak. Photo: Bloomberg

At the beginning of this month, the Hospital Authority (HA) claimed that its stock of protective gear for frontline healthcare workers was enough to meet the requirements for at least 90 days.

Nevertheless, Dr. Deacons Yeung Tai-kong, HA’s cluster services director, suggested otherwise recently, as he said that given the dramatic upsurge in usage, particularly during the run-up to the Lunar New Year holiday, gear such as protective clothing and N95 respirators are running low, and can barely last for a month going by recent usage volumes.

There are now only some 16 million surgical masks and 2.2 million sets of medical protective clothing left in the HA’s inventory, Yeung said.

As the last line of defense against the Wuhan pneumonia outbreak, one can't stress the importance of the public hospitals in Hong Kong in the efforts to overcome the epidemic.

It would definitely deal a shattering blow to the morale of the healthcare workers if there isn’t even enough protective gear for them to use.

Mindful of the dire situation which the doctors and nurses are facing, some “dedicated people”, as sources in the local business community have revealed, have approached certain European and American manufacturers specializing in supplying medical protective gear and asked them to send new shipments to Hong Kong.

However, since the standards and specifications of protective gear adopted by health authorities vary among countries and regions around the globe, the local business figures sought related information from the HA’s senior management in order to avoid ordering the wrong type of gear.

Yet much to their chagrin, their communication with the HA management in relation to the information on the standards of protective equipment used by healthcare staff in public hospitals has gone unanswered from the authority so far.

Meanwhile, another business figure has said that earlier he had tried to raise the idea, with a government bureau chief, of producing medical protective gear on his own, and that he had hoped the HA could provide him with the information on the related specs and standards in order to start working on it.

Unfortunately, the business figure hasn’t had any reply from the government on his suggestion since then.

Given that the administration had missed so many golden opportunities to contain the epidemic, he wondered why authorities were still lukewarm toward his offer of help by interested citizens.

The same phenomenon was witnessed with regard to the production of face masks.

Although some local business figures had offered to acquire machinery, using their own money, to mass-produce face masks and pledged to give priority to the HA when it comes to supply, the government had never provided any incentive or support for them on this matter.

As for the HK$10 billion fund announced by the administration to support local industries amid the virus epidemic, it is said that some in the business community have inquired with the administration as to whether the proposed fund can provide subsidies for them to develop disease prevention materials such as protective gear and face masks.

But again, they haven’t heard much from the government by way of response.

A five-day strike launched by healthcare staff of public hospitals last week has sounded the alarm for the government.

If the authorities are still unable to address the shortage of medical protective gear for frontline healthcare workers, they may stage a second wave of industrial action in the days ahead, and may gain even more public support for doing so this time.

Authorities would do well bear in mind the potential consequences of failing to act in relation to ensuring stable supplies of protective gear.

If the healthcare workers find themselves in a position where they can no longer hold their defense line, it would give rise to the risk of the coronavirus epidemic spinning out of control in the city.

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

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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JC/RC

Columnist of Hong Kong Economic Journal.