The Hong Kong government recently cited insufficient mobilisation capacity as the principal reason behind the abandonment of a mass-testing programme for Covid-19. This explanation is half-believable, half-perplexing. On the one hand, administering three Covid-19 tests to every Hong Kong resident in a matter of weeks would have been very costly and required an unprecedented level of coordination and mobilisation of personnel. What to do with positive cases would have been a further issue, as there was likely insufficient space in government quarantine facilities to house all residents who had Covid-19. On the other, we never had the chance to see the mass-testing programme implemented and so cannot know if Hong Kong’s capacities would have been up to the task. If organised well, the government may have accomplished it in some form – though not, perhaps, within the span of only a few weeks as initially suggested. Other aspects of the programme may have needed to be scaled down significantly. Mobilisation capacity may not have been the greatest constraint on mass testing, however. The more salient issue is public trust or social capital – a softer aspect of policy capacity that is often overlooked in the top-down style of governance that is becoming commonplace in Hong Kong. Other commentators have highlighted how the current crisis has exposed a surprisingly weak state; less has been said about the erosion of societal capacity in recent years. The government was always at risk of further eroding public trust and credibility by moving forward with the universal compulsory testing programme, given recent political turbulence and some public scepticism – often among older residents – about Covid-19 vaccines and policy intentions. A further weakening of public trust and credibility would hamstring the government’s efforts on other policies going forward. The imposition of the testing programme on an already exasperated public – after all the inconveniences and frustrations of the past two years – was, and remains, a risk not worth taking given its meagre marginal benefits. Hong Kong’s virus suppression policy risks becoming a zero-Covid trap To its credit, the Hong Kong government’s zero-Covid approach was initially successful – if economically costly – for earlier variants of the virus that were more lethal but less transmissible. The emergence of the Omicron variant, however, rendered zero-Covid an anachronistic, unattainable policy goal even as the government doubled-down on quarantine, isolation of positive cases, and social-distancing measures. At the same time, mobilisation capacity is now emerging as a dominant narrative thread explaining either the successes or failures of Covid-19 response. Chinese President Xi Jinping referred to the issue when meeting with Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam in February. If capacity is now at the centre of policy discussion, let us ponder more deeply what the term implies. In times of crisis, an “all-hands-on-deck” approach suggests that every available response capacity be mobilised – with the community called upon to compensate for any gaps in formal state capacity. In the early stages of the pandemic, local community groups mobilised to distribute masks even as the government equivocated about masking requirements. This effort turned out to be prescient and the government eventually followed suit with mask mandates. The Hong Kong government must now recognise that creating more space for community groups to respond to crises is a crucial, potentially life-saving strategy. Regardless of the country or political context, government alone cannot dominate all areas of public and social service delivery. When a crisis requires the action of every individual – to get tested or vaccinated, for example – it is crucial that social capital and informal social mobilisation be accepted for their influence on personal decisions and behaviour. Despite the benefits of having a robust civil society, principally NGOs and community organisations, the Hong Kong government has systematically dismantled district-level bodies through electoral reforms and weakened civil society groups by treating them differently based on their support for the administration or the opposition. These actions have undercut the ability of many such organisations to operate or even survive financially , creating a pronounced fault line between government and civil society that is difficult to repair and rebuild – not least when a whole-of-society response to a crisis is needed. A government’s crisis response capacity is weaker and less effectual without civil society cooperation. The more technical aspects of crisis preparedness are already well known, and the government will not struggle to learn from the many examples from all over the world and from Hong Kong’s past. Enhancing the city’s crisis response will also require a sincere and delicate effort by the authorities to regain social trust. 3 scenarios of how the pandemic will end in Hong Kong The challenges of coordination and mobilisation of capacity are more easily overcome than the challenges of lost trust, low public cooperation, and peripheral consequences like panic buying. Hong Kong’s aborted mass-testing episode has raised more questions than answers about the government’s relationship with its citizens. We hope that this relationship will be strengthened before the next major crisis. Kris Hartley is an assistant professor at the Department of Asian and Policy Studies at the Education University of Hong Kong. Donald Low is senior lecturer and professor of practice of public policy at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, and the director of the university’s Institute for Emerging Market Studies.