All I want for Christmas…

December 12, 2022 09:10
Photo: Reuters

In this timeless classic that doesn’t age (just like the diva behind it), Mariah Carey belts, “I don't want a lot for Christmas… There is just one thing I need”.

For thousands, if not millions of Hong Kongers, the “one thing” is plausibly the lifting of the three days of social distancing and testing requirements for overseas returnees.

Let’s face it – one way or another, these measures make a marginal, if not downright non-existent, difference to the public health situation on the ground. Under ordinary, reasonably constrained circumstances (e.g. the status quo), cases are unlikely to increase en masse as a result of the lifting of these restrictions – all similar increases brought on by the past waves of relaxations have already been off-set through the combination of herd immunity and vaccination-offered protection against some of the worst side effects. There is no clear case for such stringent restrictions.

Now, of course, one may reasonably protest that there remains the perennial risk that a) new variants and b) an overloaded public healthcare system would spell a double whammy of disaster. The law of unintended consequences, so on and so forth. And let’s be frank here – these public health concerns are most valid! Yet in the event of a hyper-infectious variant and an onslaught that threatens the public healthcare system, it is extremely unlikely that the porous and loosely enforced (albeit hyper-cumbersome) requirements pertaining to the “3” of the “0+3” arrangements could adequately resolve the problems at hand.

In short, it’s an either-or situation: either the pandemic is over, in which case these measures are redundant; or the pandemic has taken a considerable 180-degree turn for the worse, in which case we need far, far more than just these measures. Indeed, in the event of a hyper-contagious and -lethal variant emerging, we may need a restoration of robust masking, social distancing, and quarantine protocol… and it’s unclear why the “3” days of restrictions would be all that useful in and of themselves.

An explanation that some have cited in the past, is that Hong Kong must align itself with the rest of the country – i.e. the mainland – in ensuring that it does not capitulate to those who are capitulationists before the virus. This is a fair concern: after all, the political is personal, the personal is inevitably biological, and the biological could thus be political.

Yet if we look to the north of the border, we’d see that our country has in fact embraced a series of reforms and loosening measures over the past 10 days, which reflect both a deepened cognizance that it’s high time for a new approach to the virus, as well as the need for a pragmatic and context-sensitive response that balances economic needs, public demands, and public health considerations.

Let’s face it. The restrictions have vastly undermined the ability of Hong Kong’s tourism sector to rebound from the past few years of absolute aberration. Tourists are unlikely to want to travel to Hong Kong when they must undergo three days of effective exclusion from the fantastic gourmet and pristine establishments our city has to offer. Hong Kongers, on the other hand, have flocked to a variety of travel destinations abroad. Who suffers the most? Our hotel and retail industry – clearly. If we are indeed to put our people first, if we are to deliver upon their Christmas wishes, it’s high time that we mustered up the minimal courage to say, “Aye, it’s time to open.”

Once and for all – it’s time to open… just in time for Christmas!

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Editor-in-Chief, Oxford Political Review