We shall never surrender

March 09, 2022 12:07
Photo: AFP

These are difficult times, to say the least.

We’re witnessing a cascade of deaths, casualties, and infections, rip through the most vulnerable and least protected populations. The elderly, the children, the immunocompromised and the immunosuppressed. Those who have been relegated to the footnotes, or endnotes, of articles. Those whose voices are erased – drowned out by the beeping sounds and whirring winds of the electronic vital sign monitors. Beep, beep, beep. The bell rings – and there’s no one there to answer.

We’re also witnessing skyrocketing rates of contagion at large. Yes, the number of cases has dwindled somewhat over recent weeks, but we’re not out of the woods yet. With nosocomial infections a near-certainty, and eruptions of the pandemic across nursing and caged homes, the most exposed and least cared-for of our city are, as we speak today, bearing the brunt for our amoral laziness. Our reckless, wanton abandon when it came to getting vaccinated. Our negligent oblivion when it came to adopting social distancing measures. And ultimately, our collective failure to realise that, maybe, just maybe, Omicron is no joke.

Our economy is all but paralysed. Shops shut, businesses closed down – some for now, others forever. A mass exodus is under way, as lines and queues at the airport weave into one another, like the unfinished fragments of a labyrinth, waiting to writhe its way out of town, and into darkness. The daffodils of spring blossom from afar, but for those whose carcasses are left in the wild (the diction here is deliberate), there is no flower, no petal, no tear of nature to accompany them on their journeys into the beyond. Numbers. Cold, cutting numbers. Barely registered on a nominally functioning website.

If there’s one thing I know for sure, it’s that we’re in crisis.

And it’s easy to point fingers. After all, when in crisis, when in doubt, point fingers. Wag your fingers at the experts, as if one’s expertise at judgment and consternation could offset decades-worth of scientific and medical enquiry. Point your fingers at the masses, instead of doing some… much-needed introspection into oneself. Point your fingers at the elite – who must, surely, shoulder all the blame. Point, point, point – till there remains little to no point left in the cesspit of toxic, vitriolic public discourse. Blaming others is always easier than undertaking action on our own parts.

Yet – and this is a big yet – we can’t afford to sulk and lament, to berate and attack, in lieu of substantive, transformative action. We could ill-afford to neglect the room and degree of agency we possess, in effecting change as we speak today.

As we speak today, many amongst the elderly and children remain unvaccinated. We can and must encourage those we know – but also those whom we do not know – to undertake the scientifically correct option, of getting the jab. Yes, there are reasons for us to be somewhat conscious of cultural customs and idiosyncratic preferences – to take into account what individuals want. But at a time when misinformation about vaccines is rampant, trust in public health institutions and experts is at an all-time low, the least we could do is to not play into the unjustified and unfounded allegations concerning vaccine safety; the least we could do is to make vaccination the number one and foremost priority for all. That includes those in the elderly homes whose leadership had previously decided to withhold vaccination; that includes those elderly folks living in solitude on their own – and who have no choice but to look after themselves as their sole caretakers, in the event that they fall ill. Get the word out – get science out there, and let’s push back against the naysayers and skeptics sowing seeds of unrest and amorphous lies about vaccines.

Moreover, it’s high time that we made medical resources and groceries readily available to the public – including the many who have engaged in frantic panic buying spree. The Mainland have done their fair share of providing us with fresh vegetables, produce, and meats – it is only fair on them that we do not squander their goodwill through negligent or dereliction of duties. Our government must act promptly in streamlining the allocation and distribution of such goods. As civilians, we must step up, too, in pushing back against both our internal and external pressures to ‘hoard’ scarce resources. Look, let’s get real here folks – the only reason why we’d run out of Panadol, is not so much because there isn’t any Panadol left in Hong Kong, but because of the mixed signals and confused messaging, coupled with the scaremongering rumour mill on social media platforms, that have left the public in the dark. So let’s push back against such practices – by adhering ourselves to the rigid discipline of taking no more than what we need. And it’s high time that we sensibly calibrated how much we truly need.

Lend your ears to those who need help. Listen to the genuine voices of those who have found themselves jobless, or working precariously, under the pandemic. These are cliched calls – yet they are also ever the more important calls, given the truly dire straits that we have found ourselves in. Yet if there’s one thing I have learnt, from my twenty-four years spent in this city, it’s this:

We Hongkongers are an incredibly resilient people. Our city’s successes are built upon our resolve and willingness to defy the odds. In solidarity, with pride, we march on. We shall never surrender.

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Assistant Professor, HKU