No room for govt indecision in the fight against Covid-19

March 11, 2020 17:01
Chief Executive Carrie Lam holds a press conference along with her principal ministers on Feb. 3.  Experts say people should always wear face masks in crowded or public places, whether or not they have relevant symptoms. Photo: CNSA

Since its emergence in central China's Wuhan city in December last year, Covid-19 has quickly spread to other parts of the globe with the number of infections now exceeding 100,000 worldwide.

Wearing surgical masks is key to protecting oneself from the disease.

Unfortunately, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor had initially discouraged her ministers from wearing masks unless they felt unwell, saying that, according to guidelines from the World Health Organization (WHO), a healthy person with no relevant symptoms need not wear face masks.

However, Professor Yuen Kwok-yung and Dr. Ho Pak-leung of the University of Hong Kong’s Department of Microbiology of the Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine, along with several other medical organizations, have immediately refuted that argument, countering that people should always wear face masks in crowded or public places, whether or not they have symptoms.

Ho said the coronavirus outbreak in our city would have been much more severe if our citizens hadn’t been wearing face masks and maintaining good personal hygiene at all times.

The contradictory messages on disease prevention from our government officials and health experts have not only led to confusion among members of the public, but have also highlighted the poor leadership and incompetence of the SAR administration.

According to a recent survey by the Faculty of Medicine of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, which interviewed 1,168 Hong Kong citizens through online questionnaires between Jan. 24 and Feb. 5, 89.4 percent of the respondents said they have received information on the epidemic via both official and non-official websites.

It is conceivable that if people solely rely on non-official channels to obtain relevant information and keep forwarding non-authoritative information and hearsay, the situation could very well lead to confusion and panic buying, if not utter chaos.

As the epidemic is still in full swing, it is of utmost importance for our government to have the necessary crisis management mechanism in place and the foresight to respond to the rapidly developing situation.

As WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has recently pointed out in Geneva, the Covid-19 outbreak could go in any direction, and while there is still a chance for governments around the world to contain the virus, that “window of opportunity” is narrowing.

As such, there is simply no room for indecision and inaction for the SAR administration when it comes to dealing with this global health crisis.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Feb 26

Translation by Alan Lee with additional reporting

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Professor at Faculty of Business and Economics, the University of Hong Kong