- Overwhelming majority of respondents say they, not the city government, will deserve credit if epidemic is beaten
- Survey shows level of dissatisfaction with government response climbs along with income, education levels
An overwhelming majority of Hong Kong residents are convinced they will have only themselves to thank rather than their embattled government if the city wins its battle against the Covid-19 pandemic, a survey commissioned by the Post has found.
Out of nearly 850 people polled, seven in 10 said they would credit the community response for beating the coronavirus, while more than half objected to the idea of Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor's administration being commended for it.
And while the survey, conducted by the Chinese University of Hong Kong, reflected broad displeasure with the government's performance to date, the scarcity of surgical masks and personal protective equipment for ordinary residents as well as medical professionals was the biggest bone of contention.
Most respondents rated the issue more distressing than immigration control, disruption to school life or the designation of quarantine centres and clinics in their neighbourhoods.
The survey also showed a marked contrast in residents' opinions on the handling of the crisis based on income and education levels, with wealthier and more educated respondents displaying less faith in the government's efforts.
Analysts and medical experts said the study indicated most Hongkongers, many of whom lived through the severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) crisis of 2003, were deeply upset by the government's epidemic response, and that the onus was now on officials to better address their concerns.
"We don't know if we have reached the second half of this match against the virus yet, so officials must reflect on their deficiencies, and think of how to play better," said Chinese University professor Clement So York-kee, a member of the survey research team.
Dr Leung Chi-chiu, chairman of the Hong Kong Medical Association's advisory committee on communicable diseases, said he believed respondents were dissatisfied because of the government's inability to implement epidemic control measures quickly enough.
"The government was not able to be forward-looking in adjusting preventative measures based on epidemiological data," he said.
But Ronny Tong Ka-wah, an adviser in Lam's cabinet, defended the government's response, suggesting political dissatisfaction should also be taken into account when assessing public opinion.
"The World Health Organisation and some mainstream media in Britain and the US have praised Hong Kong for its fight against the virus, and suggested that we have set an example," he said.
"It's understandable that Hong Kong people's response was affected by politics, but some of those problems, such as the global shortage of masks, were not entirely the city government's fault."
The survey's findings were revealed exclusively by the Post on Wednesday, a day after Hong Kong confirmed 32 more coronavirus cases, taking the city's total to 714.
The poll, conducted from March 19 to 27 by Chinese University's Centre for Communication and Public Opinion Survey, covered 847 Hong Kong residents aged 15 and up to gauge their views on the government's response to the epidemic, as well as the impact of the crisis on their lives.
Asked whether the community should get the credit if Hong Kong managed to put a lid on infections, 71.9 per cent agreed " 48.1 per cent "strongly" and 23.8 per cent "somewhat". Just 10 per cent disagreed, while 16.5 per cent remained neutral.
At the same time, more than half " 55.7 per cent " disagreed it would be the government's achievement, with 41 per cent strongly objecting to the idea and 14.7 per cent registering mild objection. Just 23.9 per cent agreed the government should be credited, while 18.3 per cent remained neutral.
Dr Edmund Cheng Wai, associate professor at City University's Department of Public Policy, said the findings should serve as a wake-up call for the government, as top officials had failed to secure public trust at a time of crisis, even as leaders elsewhere had shown an ability to bond with their citizens.
"People tend to rally around their leaders in crisis. Governments' approval ratings were all up in the United States, Britain, South Korea and Italy, but it's distrust in the Hong Kong government that prompted citizens to rely on the community to help each other out," he said.
Governments' approval ratings were all up in the US, Britain, South Korea and Italy, but it's distrust in the Hong Kong government that prompted citizens to rely on the communityDr Edmund Cheng, of City University's Department of Public Policy
US President Donald Trump's approval rating recently hit its highest point during his presidency, according to Gallup. In Britain, Prime Minister Boris Johnson saw his approval rating jump to 72 per cent, according to Number Cruncher Politics UK.
In Italy, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte had an approval rating of 71 per cent in a survey by Demos, while South Korean President Moon Jae-in's approval rating also rose as his government succeeded in controlling infections, according to the Realmeter survey, getting back to just under 48 per cent by mid-March.
But in Hong Kong, Lam's rating dropped to a new low of 9 per cent in the past month before creeping back up to 13 per cent on March 20, according to surveys released by the Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute.
Cheng, the political scientist, added that panic buying of surgical masks at the start of the outbreak in January, during which people queued for hours even as prices surged amid a shortage, had played a large role in the public's ongoing negative perception of the government's performance.
That discontent was reflected across the poll, which asked if respondents were satisfied with officials' anti-epidemic response in five major areas: protective gear procurement, immigration, isolation measures, public consultation on quarantine facility placement, and education policy.
The centre found residents were most angry with the government's work in procuring and allocating masks and protective equipment, with 68 per cent saying they were dissatisfied, including 53.2 per cent who felt strongly so. Only 13.9 per cent were happy with how the government procured and distributed masks for residents and medical staff.
Hongkongers were not much happier with immigration control, according to the poll. Local officials have been repeatedly criticised for what was perceived as a slow reaction to the surge in Covid-19 infections " first in mainland China, then around the globe.
Only 21.1 per cent said they were happy with the government's response, while 58.4 per cent registered their dissatisfaction " 40.7 per cent strongly.
So found the number of respondents who felt strongly negative about the government's performance to be alarming.
"In statistics, we usually see more people who feel mildly about an issue, so it's unusual that so many people felt so strongly about those questions," he said.
Asked if they were content with the degree of public consultation before quarantine camps and clinics were designated for suspected Covid-19 patients, 43.1 per cent said they were dissatisfied, while 25.5 per cent were satisfied.
The government ran into stiff opposition when converting Chun Yeung Estate, a public housing complex in Fo Tan, into a quarantine camp. Some public clinics were also vandalised by radicals objecting to their being used for screening coronavirus patients.
But despite the stress generated by 900,000 Hong Kong children and teenagers being stuck at home due to schools suspending classes, the poll found most residents to be generally satisfied with the Education Bureau's response. Only 25 per cent disapproved, while 37.9 per cent were in favour.
Education sector lawmaker Ip Kin-yuen said that did not mean there was room for education officials to be complacent.
"Compared with education, the problems in other policy areas were more obvious and closer to residents' daily lives," he said. "But the education sector is still facing huge challenges at the moment in deciding the timing of class resumption and in preparing enough masks if classes have to be resumed."
Additional reporting by Elizabeth Cheung
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