- The Wuhan coronavirus epidemic was a chance for the chief executive to prove she could still take charge, yet she has been busy playing catch-up and sounding defensive
The Wuhan coronavirus outbreak may be another misfortune to befall Hong Kong after more than half a year of civil unrest. There is hopefully a good chance for the city to avoid another deadly Sars-like outbreak. For Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, though, there is a desperate need to prove she can still lead the city in a time of crisis.
Unfortunately, far from getting ahead of the potential threat from the mainland epidemic, she is at risk of squandering an opportunity to demonstrate her leadership and the competence of her government as a whole.
The highest-level emergency and the measures that health officials are putting in place are no doubt necessary. These include cancelling the city's annual marathon, extending school holidays and mandating health declarations at all entry points into the city.
But critics, not unreasonably, have asked why they weren't introduced earlier " while she was hobnobbing with the world's most powerful and richest people at the World Economic Forum in Davos last week.
China coronavirus: Hong Kong leader hits back at criticisms of being slow
At a 90-minute press conference, she sounded defensive, and rebutted criticism that officials waited for her to return from Switzerland to take credit. I don't know if they really had waited for her to come back. But what she should have done was to cut short her visit to Davos and rushed back to Hong Kong to take charge.
She said she was liaising closely with officials the whole time she was at the forum. But like justice, good leadership not only needs to achieve results, but must be seen to be done as well.
Lam was, after all, in Davos doing public relations and exercising damage control after months of violent protests that have profoundly ruined the city's international image and reputation as a haven of stability. She was also trying to sell the viability of her government under "one country, two systems" on the international stage.
You could argue she was also on a personal mission to salvage her own reputation after so many months of calls from protesters for her to resign.
Well, paradoxically, she would have been far more convincing to the world and Hong Kong if she had rushed back and taken charge. That might have justified her staying on during a potentially deadly health crisis.
Cometh the hour, cometh the man (or woman). Sadly, Lam has proved, time and again, that she is not that person.
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