- The city was not alone in being hit by a ‘second wave’ of infections last month as Hongkongers returned sick from abroad and locally transmitted cases also shot up
- Financial aid and public health measures are in place to try to stop the disease’s spread. Now, everyone needs to stay vigilant
One day in the future, when the coronavirus pandemic is over, we will look back at how we dealt with this crisis. Perhaps in Hong Kong, we will particularly remember the "second wave" of infections that started around the middle of March.
Up to that time, it looked like we had the disease under control. Then the number of confirmed or probable cases shot up " from around 150 on March 15 to 961 by April 9. If you look at a chart, it clearly shows a major surge in imported cases during March, plus a big increase in local, "possibly local" and especially "close contact of local" cases.
The huge rise in imported cases was due to the return of Hong Kong residents " such as students " from overseas. At the same time, it looks like many of us were perhaps too complacent. The tracking system is not perfect, but the numbers suggest that most of the new local cases spread from existing cases already here.
Incidentally, despite what you may have heard, there is no "third wave" coming to Hong Kong now that Wuhan's lockdown has ended. Mainland authorities remain very cautious, and Hong Kong is still refusing entry to all non-residents from anywhere in the world.
Hong Kong was not alone in seeing this second wave of cases. Mainland China, Singapore, Japan and South Korea have all reported broadly similar patterns.
In Hong Kong, we have progressively tightened restrictions on travel and quarantine, and on restaurants, bars, cinemas, gyms and so on. These measures are painful. The travel industry has virtually shut down, and small and medium-sized businesses face possible bankruptcy. Yet some people say we should do more.
As it is, the cost to individuals and households is serious. Many thousands of people face unemployment and a significant fall in incomes.
Like Singapore, Britain, the US and elsewhere, Hong Kong is taking decisive action to help companies and households. The budget in late February contained a range of relief measures. And the government has just announced an initiative to use wage subsidies to save jobs in a wide range of industries and sectors.
The plan is to deliver subsidies to employers quickly to avoid redundancies for a period of at least several months. This is an unprecedented measure for Hong Kong, and it will make a major difference in guaranteeing incomes for hundreds of thousands of workers and their family members.
As well as financial hardship, this crisis is taking a toll in terms of mental stress. Working and studying from home and staying indoors at weekends is OK for a week or two. But when these things go on for months, nearly everyone starts to feel the strain.
Some people have disobeyed rules and been caught gathering in large groups or breaking quarantine. But there are also many heroes out there.
Airline crew members who worked on flights have tested positive for the virus. Hotel, shop staff, transport workers and cleaners are at risk. And we mustn't forget the health care workers, especially those who face such a risk of infection that they have to sleep away from their family homes.
Most of all, of course, there is the suffering of those people who are falling sick and being hospitalised, and their family members and close friends.
It is true that things are worse elsewhere. For example, New York City " with around the same population as Hong Kong " has over 76,000 confirmed cases and 4,000 deaths as of April 8. Refrigerated trucks are being used as morgues.
But this is of no comfort to us. One thing Asia's experience shows is that even when a community acts fast and takes precautions, its success in countering the virus may turn out to be just local and temporary.
Hong Kong has financial resources, and it has room to extend social-distancing measures if necessary. Now is the time for everyone to do every single thing they can to help keep the virus from spreading. Let's not look back one day and remember a "third wave" of infections.
Bernard Chan is convenor of Hong Kong's Executive Council
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