Today’s question is: can Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam find a way to use the Wuhan Virus to make herself look more ridiculous? And the answer is that she certainly can, proposing a ban on the sale of alcohol at bars and restaurants.
This was no doubt prompted by sensational tabloid exposes of a virus-carrying Westerner frequenting Lan Kwai Fong and having multiple/frequent/frenzied one-night stands. To add to the tabloids’ prurient freaking-out, it was a female. For extra added frisson, she was of an advanced age (well, 50) when she should have been knitting socks for cats or running Taiwan or something.
Critics accuse our cloistered bureaucrats of being puritanical or at least pandering to some ‘boozy rutting aging gwaipo’ stereotype. But in fact something else is going on.
What we are seeing here is the Hong Kong civil service’s obsessive-compulsive hyper-specificity – zeroing in on a high-profile but minuscule and barely relevant aspect of a problem, while of course missing the bigger picture.
Recent examples would include the (pre-pestilence) attempt to ban face masks on the assumption that these caused anti-government protests, and the subsequent bizarre (COVID-19-era) ban on charities buying yellow or black masks (on similar grounds).
This is a long tradition. Years ago, after a spate of trees falling and killing people, officials decided to attach a unique personal identity tag to every large-ish plant in Hong Kong. Another example was the shotcreting of every slope after one fatal landslide.
Perhaps the finest example came after a distraught man went nuts with flammable liquid at an Immigration Department office and burnt a staff member to death. Presumably, officials reviewed security in general, but their Big Idea was to issue personnel special vests with built-in fire extinguishers – as if this freakish and tragic scenario would become a regular event.
To the extent that ‘Westerners drinking and becoming intimate’ pose a public health risk, the government should consider blanket shut-downs of all restaurants and bars plus other non-essential gatherings like weddings for a few weeks. But it’s perhaps more palatable/cheaper to focus on specific, easily identifiable sub-groups and activities. The administration is (I hear) currently pondering how to stop domestic helpers from congregating on Sundays.