The Hong Kong government has relaxed some of the restrictions imposed due to the fourth wave of Covid-19 as the number of new cases come down. Still some of the curbs imposed to reduce the risk of transmission, like gathering of large groups, remain in force.
It is understandable that, given Hong Kong is a densely populated city, we have to be alert to be one step ahead of the virus. But as we go past the one-year mark since such policies started, they are also having a telling effect on the economic and social life of the city’s residents.
When the disease began to spread in Hong Kong early last year, authorities drew up an action plan based on advice from health experts on ways to cut the transmission chain. Stepped-up hygiene, restrictions on gatherings, closure of businesses where people converged, work from home and online classes were introduced. And this worked remarkably well as the spread of Covid-19 virus was contained effectively.
But it came at a cost as businesses suffered and unemployment rates shot up, not to mention the rising stress levels due to these restrictions. The government stepped in with subsidies and financial help to lessen the pain to some extent.
As the disease returned in a second, third and fourth wave, a “suppress and release policy” became the norm.
It is now confirmed that Covid-19 can be spread through the airborne droplets and that closed areas with bad air circulation are conducive to the spread of the virus. But the chances are lower of people being infected in open air areas and places with adequate ventilation.
Yet, still, the social distancing measures drawn up by experts at the beginning of last year remain unchanged. Every time new clusters emerge, the same policies are resorted to. This is despite new clusters being linked to closed areas like bars, restaurants, dance halls and old-age homes.
Beaches and children’s parks remain closed while curbs on activities in open air areas are imposed though no clusters in the past year have been linked to such areas.
Police officers were seen going around checking distance between groups of domestic helpers converging in parks and other public areas. This paints the policies in a discriminatory light and calls into question the continuation of some measures.
It is time the Carrie Lam administration reviewed its “suppress and release policy” to formulate a targeted approach. The blanket application of the lockdowns is pushing the economy into deeper trouble, especially as Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-Po has warned that doling out cash and subsidies can’t go on forever.
Moreover, the impact of such curbs on the people at large are taking a toll as their social activities are restrained. This is paving way for the Covid-19
fatigue to set in faster.
The continued closure of beaches, children’s play areas and barbecue sites in country parks make no sense while establishments with closed air circulation like restaurants are allowed to operate. The end of work from home arrangements and restarting of some classes at schools have also led to crowded trains and buses.
The authorities should take into account the uneven impact of their policies and re-evaluate them in favour of targeted application of the restrictive measures needed to guard against Covid-19.
People should be allowed to enjoy outdoor facilities and, indeed, encouraged to go out into the open space rather than heading to shops and malls where the chances of contracting virus through air recirculation are higher. The residents of Hong Kong by and large have abided by hygiene and social distancing measures, and there is no reason to fear that this will slip if they are allowed more outdoor activities.
It has been more than a year since the virus threw the life in the city into a disarray. Over these 12 months, we can evaluate which are the areas where we need to be on guard.
The authorities should now be able to adopt a more flexible approach instead of sticking to the all-enveloping restrictions that were drawn up when we had no clue about how Covid-19 was spreading.