The Hong Kong government’s Covid policy so far involves: using the pandemic as an excuse to ban political gatherings; banning outdoor social activities more than indoor ones; neglecting to push the elderly to get vaccinated; happily ignoring damage done to businesses and livelihoods; encouraging reliance on less-effective Mainland vaccines; imposing punitive quarantine requirements that make travel near-impossible, isolation rules that incentivize possible carriers to avoid testing, and fruitless lockdowns; and obsessively focusing on reopening the border with the Mainland as the only possible – if hopelessly distant – priority.
Even if you strip Beijing out of the equation, we are still left with a local administration that sticks to its quarter-century long tradition of refusing on principle to back down and change its policies.
Now, as other developed economies start to move on to post-pandemic life, the detection of one local transmission of the omicron variant prompts a new round of pre-vax zero-Covid social distancing and travel restrictions – riddled with incoherence.
Among the facilities to be closed: children’s playgrounds, but not schools; golf courses, but not packed MTR stations; restaurants at dinner-time, but not during lunch; pebble walking trails, but not non-pebble walking trails. And, to quote HKFP, ‘“Cruises to nowhere” will be cancelled’. Cruises to nowhere are an apt metaphor for Hong Kong: no-one can get on, no-one can get off, and we have no destination. Many flights to nowhere too, with direct air links cut with the UK, US, Canada, Australia and France.
For someone’s convenience – but not yours – each government department issues a separate statement on which facilities/events it will be suspending. Thus the Ag and Fish Dept tells you to forget visiting geo parks here. The Environmental Protection Dept says abandon hope of going to the Weee Park here. And the Leisure and Cultural Services Dept announces closure of all its pebble walking trails, kids’ tricycling lots, outdoor chess tables and gateball courts here. Travel stuff is here.
It is hard to tell exactly what the government is trying to achieve given that Covid is going to become endemic worldwide. At best, it feels as if bureaucrats and their preferred medical experts are trapped and going round in circles in a room refusing to open doors marked ‘vaccinate the elderly’ and ‘travel bubbles’ and ‘let kids play outdoors’ and ‘use common-sense’. At worst, it feels like a deliberate plan to permanently downgrade the city and leave the population in a state of despair.