For ‘super connector’ Hong Kong, it’s all about the economy – so Covid-19 rules have to go
- All the government plans to revive Hong Kong need money. And only a growing economy will generate the revenues needed
- That means we have to open up to the world quickly and drop all Covid-related restrictions, in testing, checking and masking
“It’s the economy, stupid” was a slogan devised by James Carville for Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign in 1992. The words were framed and hung on the wall of the campaign office as a reminder to stay on message. It worked. Clinton defeated George H.W. Bush.
They all have one thing in common: they need money. And only a growing economy will generate the revenues needed to pay for the things we want to do.
To connect the mainland with the rest of the world, we must be open to both. Beijing makes policy for entry to the mainland so we have to live with it, though we have the same lobbying rights as the rest of China. But we are in control of our international borders, so that is where we should start.
All incomers require a negative test before boarding a plane, and 11 further tests in the first week after arrival. None of our competitors in the region do any of this.
How about cutting back to a single polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test on arrival, then eliminating even that after a month? Having to register our entry to various premises and repeatedly prove our vaccination status is tiresome for residents and a turn-off for visitors.
Finally, there is the issue of masking. Many people in Asia are happy to wear a mask for part of the day, for example on public transport during peak hours, though patience is wearing thin after three years. Many Westerners are not prepared to mask up at all but there is some voluntary masking on public transport even in countries that have dropped other restrictions.
There is no health justification for the outdoor mask mandate. There must be a happy medium. Ultimately it is up to us: do we want to be a super connector or not?
Public finances everywhere have taken a huge hit from the pandemic because of the slowdown in economies and the need to spend large sums on vaccines, personal protective equipment and relief measures. Hong Kong has not bucked this trend, but in one aspect at least we are exceptional. Where the United States, Britain and elsewhere have extensive debt and must try to borrow more to cover deficits, we are in the happy position of having built up extensive reserves through decades of prudent budgeting.
People pay tax when they make an income or a profit, or undertake a transaction subject to stamp duty. Volume matters in all these things. The livelier the economy, the more activity, the more tax collected.
Sometimes there are so many “priorities” for a government to undertake that ministers feel swamped. But thanks to Carville, the focus should be clear and the writing on the wall.
Mike Rowse is the CEO of Treloar Enterprises