The speed and efficiency with which authorities in Shenzhen have locked down the city of 17 million residents to contain an Omicron outbreak has been breathtaking. Critics have predictably complained why Hong Kong couldn’t do the same. We are still talking about citywide testing, they say, instead of doing it. I thought Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor explained well at a press conference why the city couldn’t have done the same. But far from excusing her government, she actually dug a bigger hole for herself. If the city doesn’t have the capabilities, resources and social system to follow the mainland, as she said, it’s no wonder it is failing, because it is trying to follow the goal but not the method of the mainland. “For us to learn from Shenzhen and conduct three universal tests in a few days, I’m afraid we are not yet able to do so,” she said. Quite! The mainland has been highly successful with its “test, trace and isolate” strategy over the past two years by developing the necessary capabilities, resources and organisation. This strategy, too, had worked for Hong Kong, until Omicron. The fifth-wave variant is too contagious, and the vaccine take-up rates among the elderly have been too low. “Political imperatives failed to recognise the different structural capacities and threats in Hong Kong and China,” wrote Dr David Owens in an excellent four-part series posted on the website of OT&P Healthcare. Hong Kong leaves locked-down neighbours livid over ‘slow response’ to Covid surge Hong Kong used to be praised and admired for having the best of both worlds, whatever they were. Omicron has shown that it actually has the worst of both worlds. Aside from the obvious incompetence and inefficiency of local officials, including those in public health care, people in charge didn’t have the independence, or didn’t think they had it, to devise an exit strategy commensurate with the capabilities, resources and social system of the city, that is, our “actual situation”. On the other hand, the city’s guaranteed high degree of autonomy prevents senior mainland officials, including public health experts, from taking a more active supervisory role in this health crisis, which has clearly overwhelmed the intellectual and professional capabilities of our top officials to address and contain it. How can Hong Kong get out of this mess? I have no idea. I am no health expert. But I think Dr Owens has some excellent suggestions. I do recommend reading him.