People wearing face masks as a preventive measure against the coronavirus commute on a train in Hong Kong. Photo: AFP via Getty Images/TNS
by SCMP Editorial
by SCMP Editorial

Overdue change in priorities brings Hong Kong hope on coronavirus front

  • New focus on reducing infections, serious illness and deaths among the most vulnerable, instead of mass testing, raises the question as to why this was not done sooner

U-turns have apparently become the norm rather than the exception as the raging Covid-19 outbreak forces Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor to tweak her pandemic strategies.

But the focus on reducing infections, serious illness and deaths, along with a new commitment by the city’s leader to give updates on the latest developments via daily press conferences, is a welcome change.

There is a long road ahead, but by resetting priorities and improving communication, the government may, hopefully, turn the tide.

It is good that a more strategic approach is in place, including allocating more hospitals and district centres for Covid treatment, vaccinating more elderly citizens and enhancing protection for care homes.


Hong Kong converts 3 public hospitals into Covid-only facilities in latest effort to fight 5th wave

Hong Kong converts 3 public hospitals into Covid-only facilities in latest effort to fight 5th wave

The changes follow advice from top mainland expert Liang Wannian and his team. Lam yesterday expressed sadness for those who have died, but stopped short of apologising for the rising toll.

As most who have died were elderly and unvaccinated, the need to adjust priorities appears obvious. It has to be asked why the latest measures were not adopted earlier.

Lam would not be drawn on whether Beijing was upset at her performance, but conceded that mainland experts had identified inadequacies in efforts to combat the pandemic, such as a failure to target resources to treat severe infections. It is to be hoped that the change in focus will soon achieve results.

No one is sure whether the fifth wave has peaked, but the best time for compulsory community testing has certainly been missed.

Confirmation that such testing is no longer a priority at this stage may ease the worries of those who have been stockpiling food and other necessities for a potential lockdown.

Authorities must closely assess when is the best time to move against hidden transmissions in society, and then give the public enough time and sufficient information to prepare.

Hong Kong government schools to send 5,000 staff to help Covid mass testing

Choosing to wear a mask, Lam jokingly said she believed people would not want to see her all the time, referring to her intention to chair a daily press conference until the fifth wave subsides.

But it will take more than publicity to overcome the current crisis. As Lam said, whether we should “live with Covid” or continue to embrace the mantra of “dynamic zero infection” is no longer meaningful.

However, she rightly made clear that lying flat, or doing nothing, is hardly the option. Saving lives must now be the overriding priority. That includes diverting limited resources to treat the critically and seriously ill and to strengthen protection for the most vulnerable.

Time and again, the city has missed golden opportunities to claim victory over the virus. With Beijing’s firm support and sound policy adjustments, there is still hope on the horizon.