The pattern of multibillion-dollar government relief measures for individuals and businesses over the past two years is a graphic reflection of how the city is suddenly facing its most serious pandemic crisis, with 5,400 preliminary positive cases announced yesterday. Relief approved by lawmakers worth HK$27 billion, including HK$10 billion for the jobless, is the seventh round since January 2020, counting HK$120 billion in the February 2020 budget. But it is the first big package since late 2020, discounting HK$3.57 billion last month. In between, the city boasted relatively low contagion and mortality that were the envy of most other places. Self-congratulation has proved premature in the face of the fifth wave of infection and the highly contagious Omicron variant. Now, apart from the relief package, the government has also announced extraordinary measures to maintain a “dynamic zero Covid” policy adapted from the mainland. All this should focus officials’ minds on ensuring the latest round of spending on relief and pandemic countermeasures is meaningful and adequate – or gets a timely boost if it is not – and is not undermined by piecemeal measures, confused messaging and lack of clear direction. As the hospital system is overwhelmed, people are increasingly worried and anxious, and prone to misunderstandings, as Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor acknowledged ahead of the weekly Executive Council meeting yesterday. Apart from plans already revealed for a makeshift hospital, she said some 3,000 flats at two new public housing estates and up to 10,000 hotel rooms would be used to isolate Covid-19 patients. Hong Kong unemployed set to get HK$10,000 Covid-relief handout It remains to be seen if these and other measures can help bring the fifth wave under control. The government needs to act decisively. It is good to hear Lam is ready to use her powers if necessary to secure the cooperation of the hotel industry, rather than approaching individual hotels. A quick resolution is necessary if this initiative is not to look like another instalment of piecemeal responses. The HK$10 billion in one-off handouts to the jobless falls short of the expectations of some in the pro-establishment camp that there should be a six-month benefit. That revives the old issue whether Hong Kong should have an unemployment fund. Now is not the time to resolve it given debate in normal times about the definition of unemployment and the growing role of freelance workers. The HK$27 billion package helps about 750,000 people and 61,000 businesses affected by the latest sweeping social-distancing measures. It buys time for us all to pull together to bring the latest wave under control and get the vaccination rate up so that social-distancing rules can be relaxed – hopefully for good.