Why the government doesn’t want the virus to go away

June 01, 2020 11:40
Photo: Reuters

While Hong Kong continues to reel under the shock of the pending national security laws the fast fading Lam administration is hoping and praying that the coronavirus does not go away too soon because as long as it poses as a continuing threat it provides an excuse to ban all forms of protests pending the arrival of the more draconian national security legislation.

The shameless political weaponizing of the campaign to defeat the virus makes a mockery of the government’s claim that everyone is untied in fighting Covid 19.

While ‘vital’ activities such as karaoke lounges, night clubs, bathhouses and party rooms have been able to get back to business and religious gatherings are being opened up, the government has quickly moved to ensure that the June 4 commemoration of the Tiananmen Square massacre will not be allowed to take place. And there is every prospect that the key anniversaries of the protests in June will also be banned.

Last week Chris Tang, the police chief, told his officers that their “efforts in maintaining law and order for Hong Kong have outshined the rioters. The day the police force drive out darkness for Hong Kong and bring it into brightness will arrive before long." There is a clear double meaning here starting with triumphalism in putting down the protests surrounding the national anthem bill debate in Legco and signalling that armed with the new national security law all protest can be eliminated.

Meanwhile officials and the usual suspects have been using this pandemic as an opportunity to expand the narrative of linking the fight against the virus to the protests. They are quick to point to the “irresponsibility” of protestors who refuse to go away. This is a bit rich coming from an administration that has declared that Legco’s main priority is to pass a national anthem law instead of focusing on the developing economic recession, growing unemployment and mounting poverty.

Even relief measures are being tailored to match political objectives, most notably in the timing of the HK$10,000 handout to all citizens just ahead of the September Legco elections. The hope is that this will somehow give a boost to the pro-China camp that is running very scared of loosing control of Legco.
There is even talk of the election being postponed on “health grounds”, and Junius Ho, the infamous lover of thugs in white tee shirts, is to be thanked for putting this into words.

While the usual suspects follow the slogan of never allowing a crisis to go waste, the people of Hong Kong have demonstrated the admirable kind of self discipline and ingenuity required to do the real job of preventing the spread of disease.

Citizens sourced face masks well before the government got round it. Citizens have also been practising social distancing and hygiene awareness without any listening to the bleating from the government. And, lest it is forgotten, it was frontline medical workers who forced the government to more or less seal the border to the Mainland at a time when infections were mainly coming from this direction.

The reality is that there has been a high degree of social cohesion here in Hong Kong but it is most definitely not a result of government action. The government has consistently been in the back seat while the people have been driving the response.

There is a real problem at times like these when those who are supposed to be providing leadership have veered from incompetence to downright lying as, for example, when they tried to pretend that the official mask supply, only arriving after everyone had masks, came from a source that had won an award for its masks.

Then there is what can only be described as blatant racism in the way that people returning to Hong Kong from abroad are treated. People arriving from places such as the United States and Britain, where rates of infection are the highest in the world, are not shut up in quarantine camps. But returnees from places such as India, Pakistan and South Africa are instantly ferried off to these camps. Skin colour clearly weighs heavily in the government’s mind.

There will, of course, be a reckoning once this pandemic passes. Unfortunately, the medical devastation will probably turn out to be a mere shadow of the economic fallout. There are no prizes for predicting the level of government incompetence that can be expected as this works its way through the system.

In countries with similarly incompetent governments citizens who can actually chose their government have the opportunity to boot them out of office. In Hong Kong that opportunity does not exist. Moreover no one in this administration will take responsibility for anything, the worse they perform, the more likely they are to remain in office.

And now Beijing has intervened to take direct control of Hong Kong. We may well find ourselves looking back on the days of the coronavirus with nostalgia, it’s not a happy thought.

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Hong Kong-based journalist, broadcaster and book author