The chief executive’s work report to the central government has attracted greater attention this year, not only because it was held online for the first time without the public being told beforehand, but also as a result of the implications it has for two of Beijing’s deepest concerns – controlling the Covid-19 epidemic and fostering a new political order. While more changes are expected in the wake of the emphasis put on the city having to be “governed by patriots”, the outlook during the health crisis is far more uncertain. Failing to tackle the challenges will undermine Hong Kong’s well-being and its governing principle of “one country, two systems”. The arrangements made for President Xi Jinping to brief Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor and her Macau counterpart, Ho Iat-seng, by videoconference on Wednesday underline the importance attached to the work of the two special administrative regions. Even with circumstances preventing face-to-face meetings in the capital, the performances of the city chiefs are still being closely watched at the highest level. Xi expresses worries over Covid-19 wave in Hong Kong as he meets city chief The state leader has made no bones about his worries over Hong Kong’s epidemic. With the fourth wave dragging on for more than two months, it would have been strange if Beijing had remained unconcerned. Despite Lam’s achievements in fighting Covid-19 and restoring the economy having been recognised, she must have got the message when Ho was praised for keeping Macau free of local infections for more than 300 days. She should spare no effort to contain the coronavirus and revive the economy. This was also the key message from Premier Li Keqiang, the official in charge of the country’s economic affairs. Regrettably, neither the outbreak nor the city’s economy have shown signs of a turnaround yet. This is not the first time Lam has come under pressure to do better. In her duty visit two years ago, she was told to stop the unrest that resulted from her unpopular and now-withdrawn extradition bill and to address underlying problems. Public order brought about by the enactment of the national security law in the summer has earned her some recognition. She was praised by Xi for her commitment to enforcing the law and her love of the motherland. While such an endorsement may further alienate her from those who take issue with Beijing’s approach towards local affairs, it will also give her a stronger hand to pursue a new political order. The city is being closely watched as Beijing gets serious about “patriots forming the main body of Hong Kong administrators”, a guiding principle laid down by late paramount leader Deng Xiaoping. Equally worthy of concern is the unsettling epidemic. These two challenges continue to put Lam and the city to the test.