Hong Kong is now better equipped to deal with Covid-19 and open up to the world
- The city’s new health secretary has pledged to use scientific, effective and precise measures to achieve maximum results
- For Hong Kong, the best measure would be to map a science-based exit path from the pandemic, as befits a global financial centre
In the US, where Covid-19 has killed more than 1 million people, the discord between then president Donald Trump and public health scientist Anthony Fauci demonstrated that putting politics ahead of science costs lives.
The fact is that once people relocate to other cities with fewer or no pandemic restrictions, find schools for their children and settle down, they are very unlikely to come back, given the high cost of relocation and their bad memories of the city’s Covid-19 policy.
Now that Hong Kong has brought the fifth wave under control, it is time to show that the city still enjoys a high degree of autonomy by opening up to the rest of the world now.
Of course, Hong Kong should remain vigilant and maintain the capability to control the risk of any virulent variant being introduced, and to respond with scientific, consistent and proportionate measures which the sensible majority will support – such as promoting frequent rapid antigen testing by distributing free kits and taking targeted measures to mitigate any community outbreak.
These measures should never include locking down Hong Kong to conduct universal testing, which is not a cost-effective strategy for the Omicron variant that tends to cause mild illness in triple-vaccinated individuals. Besides, given that Covid-19 is likely to return in ever more transmissible forms, how many times could we afford such an exercise?
The authorities should warn the public to proceed on the assumption that they will catch Covid-19 sooner or later; thus, getting three shots of either vaccine is safer than simply hoping they will not catch coronavirus.
The fully vaccinated majority should not be held hostage by the minority, who should take responsibility for their own choices. The fact that more than 12 billion vaccine doses have been given worldwide means that the initial misinformation about vaccines is just that.
Currently, most daily new cases are local. The import of variants can be prevented by pre-travel and on-arrival PCR testing, plus a three-day home quarantine. Those who test negative on Day 4 could go out but continue to self-monitor for another four days.
Each jurisdiction must decide what is best for its population. It is clear that Hongkongers desire an exit path from the pandemic to be mapped out, as befits a global financial centre.
Of course, it would be perfect if Hong Kong could reopen the borders with the rest of the world and the mainland at the same time, but opening the mainland border is beyond our control and we shouldn’t let perfect be the enemy of the good.
Having just celebrated the 25th anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to the motherland, the new administration should start with the low-hanging fruit and open up to international travel first. This should pose no additional risks to the mainland as long as there are transmission controls at our northern border, and may even serve as an example of how to return to normality.
Dr Nelson Wong is vice-chairman of The Business and Professionals Federation of Hong Kong