A step in the right direction

August 09, 2022 08:49
Photo: RTHK

John Lee’s administration unveiled on Monday a series of measures designed to reopen Hong Kong to the world. As I have repeatedly written and called for previously – this is not only a sensible and humane move for all Hong Kongers, but also the responsible thing to do in light of our obligations and commitments to China, as a city and bastion of free trade and open inflow and outflow of labour and personnel. This is indeed a step in the right direction – and for this, John and his cabinet must be applauded for their resolve, transparency, and willingness to take action. Against the potential backlash and wrath of radical pro-establishment and pro-isolationism voices they did not wince or flinch – but soldiered on. So props to them for that.

The revision of the quarantine period down to three nights (plus four nights of home quasi-isolation – more like de facto limited freedoms of movement conditional upon vaccination and COVID-19 status, with prohibited access to particular sites) would be helpful in easing the woes and discomfort for Hong Kong residents who are stranded abroad, and who have been dying to see their families and friends back home. It also sends out a strong and welcoming signal, that this administration is not just talk – it is willing to, and committed to, delivering actual results. So from all angles and by all means, these changes are great news.

I would go further to add that this is a pretty remarkable balancing of considerations – John is obviously operating under a wide range of considerations and constraints, and not all of them point favourably towards more opening up. It is easy to complain and point fingers at those in government, when one is not in fact in government. It is on this basis that I would extend a note of gratitude to voices of reason and pragmatism within this city’s leadership, who have seen to the plethora of reasons in favour of a more scientifically oriented pandemic policy – and pushed for as much accordingly.

With that said, whilst this is the correct (first) step, we have a long way to go before normalcy is restored. The first observation here, is that our city remains hugely under-boosted (-second-boosted, at that, too) – the proportion of our population that has received boosters or second boosters must be increased, in order to allow for further opening-up and easing of quarantine and social distancing measures. Elsewise, the burden placed upon our public health infrastructure would frankly be untenable, in light especially of the varieties of variants that have emerged across the world over the past year or so.

The second comment, then, is that we must seek to expedite the reopening process. Rumours have it that the government is contemplating a quasi-closed-loop and 0-day-quarantine treatment in time for the Rugby Sevens and Financial Summit double hit – this would make sense only for the limited number of foreign travellers who are comfortable with the idea of remaining stuck and glued to their accommodation when not conducting or dabbling in the important conversations held at the respective events. I understand perfectly the need to cut down transmission rates – but when over 95% of transmission is currently occurring domestically, with less than 5% of all cases imported from abroad, surely it’s high time for us to contemplate this: what value, if any, is there in the ultra-stringent restrictions that remain in place for incoming travellers and tourists. Our tourism industry deserves better.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, there remains a dearth of understanding and recognition from within certain segments of the public – especially those who have vehemently protested the decisions by the government to loosen up the respective restrictions – who seem to see the recent announcements as a sign of defeat and capitulation. This is not capitulation – this is pragmatism at its finest. What’s needed now is more – faster and better loosening of regulations with the upholding of economic welfare and security as the primary objective.

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Assistant Professor, HKU