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Friday, Mar 31, 2023

Hong Kong’s leaders finally recognise what city lost during Covid-19

Hong Kong’s leaders finally recognise what city lost during Covid-19

As much as Hongkongers are sick and tired of Covid-19, 2022 was the year when we finally managed to reckon with the virus and get it under control. It’s now time for the government to address the lingering issues from the pandemic.
As the year comes to a close, it is hard to imagine all that Hong Kong has gone through and how far we have come. As much as we are sick and tired of Covid-19, 2022 is the year that we finally reckoned with the virus.

The early months of the year were the harshest – the restrictions imposed amid Covid-19 hit their peak with a cap of two people on public gatherings. Residents were suffering from pandemic fatigue, and many businesses were simply unable to hold out any longer to stay afloat.

The now-infamous birthday party of Witman Hung Wai-man was the first and biggest political scandal of 2022. The celebration, whose list of movers and shakers in attendance included 14 senior officials and 20 lawmakers, ended up drawing the ire of then chief executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor.

Held against advice given by government authorities to avoid large gatherings, the party uncovered more than just blatant disregard for scanning the “Leave Home Safe” app. The biggest offence from Hung’s birthday party was making pandemic fatigue “official”.

We rang in 2022 with the fifth wave of the pandemic, but far more shocking was seeing how inadequate our public health system was in handling an outbreak. Patients had to weather the elements in hospital car parks while awaiting treatment. The city was a ghost town. Mainland experts and medical workers had to be sent from across the border to help.

The frightening images of patients lying in gurneys outside the hospital will be permanently seared into our collective memory. The near-collapse of our hospitals made it clear that we did not have the luxury of less-stringent measures – a hard reality to stomach.

At some point in 2022, the government accepted that quarantine-free travel between the city and the mainland or Macau was simply not going to happen this year. At least, it was never a matter of our own volition, no matter how hard we worked.

The government had run out of ideas about how to give people lifelines as they lost their livelihoods and hope. It just kept giving out consumption vouchers. Confronted with a mass exodus of people leaving the city over its strict pandemic policies, the government had to switch gears.

That came in the form of a new leader. Lam was a combative chief executive and the face of some of the world’s strictest Covid-19 measures, and she was switched out. In the end, she paid the ultimate political price. Lam did not back down from the massive social unrest of 2019, but Covid-19 got her at the end.

During the last days of her term, Lam spoke frankly about how Hong Kong needed to open to the world to retain its status as an international hub. She also said the quarantine controls and border control measures had undermined the city’s global status.

But it is now time to breathe a sigh of relief and give ourselves a few pats on the back for surviving. The lifting of many pandemic measures came late – after VIPs who graced the city during the financial summit in October received extraordinary privileges – but at least we are not tending to patients out in the cold, despite our daily infection numbers. The “Leave Home Safe” app is only useful for its vaccine pass function.

We have come a long way. I, for one, am making this my last column on Covid-19.

After almost three years of trying to keep the pandemic at bay, our leaders finally recognised what Hong Kong had lost in the process. Far more than just the city’s status, we closed places of worship, shut children out of their schools, held back their social development and left them vulnerable to lifelong effects that include depression and anxiety.

During this time, homeless numbers surged. Our mental health crisis ballooned. These are only some of the “long Covid” issues the new administration must resolve to fix.

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