Beijing Takes Control Of Hong Kong’s Response To The City’s Covid Crisis

Chart of daily cases of Covid-19 in Hong Kong. Source: Our World in Data. Licenced under Creative Commons BY license

HONG KONG HAS is at the point of being overwhelmed by the Omicron variant. President Xi Jinping has ordered Carrie Lam’s city administration to make containing the latest surge its top priority.

At stake is the effectiveness of a zero-tolerance policy to contain the virus — and the global reputation of Beijing’s success in implementing it.

Concerns for authorities on the mainland will include the worry that Hong Kong is a forerunner of what could happen across China. That concern is exacerbated by the relative ineffectiveness of the Sinovac vaccination against Omnicron and the fact that the zero-tolerance policy means China has no herd immunity.

A third concern will be the risk of social instability, alluded to by Xi in his instruction that Hong Kong’s administration must ensure ‘overall social stability’. In North America and Europe, where virus containment measures such as lockdowns have been less draconian than in China, populations are starting to show restlessness against governments.

There are signs of pandemic fatigue among Hong Kong residents who have had to put up with the closure of many public venues and severe travel restrictions.

Beijing will throw what resources are necessary for Hong Kong’s government to tackle the latest outbreak. This will likely include sending medical and other supplies, building temporary isolation and hospital facilities at breakneck speed and tightening up the city’s testing and tracing capabilities. It will probably send teams from the mainland to run the mass testing, which may be made compulsory.

It will also send pandemic-seasoned officials to run the containment operation. An advanced guard of senior epidemiologists has already been dispatched to the city. A pressing task will be to raise Hong Kong’s relatively low vaccination rates, particularly among the elderly.

Hong Kong has confirmed about 26,000 infections since the start of the pandemic and barely 200 deaths, numbers far below other similar-sized cities. However, record levels of more than 6,000 new cases a day — and pictures of infected patients being treated outside crowded hospitals — are not the images of the well-ordered government response to a crisis that Beijing likes to portray.

Xi was prominent in China’s early response to Covid-19 but had stepped back. His latest public intervention is a sign of the seriousness with which Beijing is taking Hong Kong’s situation. Intriguingly, this is all being mentioned sotto voce if at all by mainland state media.

Lam has said that Hong Kong will not impose a citywide lockdown or introduce the strict mass testing that has been the rule on the mainland, relying hitherto on quarantine measures to implement its zero Covid policy, based on mandatory hospitalisation of all cases, regardless of whether the patient is mildly ill or even asymptomatic.

Nonetheless, Xi’s intervention likely implies a tightening of controls. His bluntness can reasonably be interpreted as a rebuke of Hong Kong officials’ handling of the outbreak so far, and of his intent to prevent Hong Kong from becoming a beachhead from which Omicron can invade the mainland.

Update: On February 22, Lam ordered the compulsory testing of all 7.5 million Hong Kong citizens starting in mid-March.

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4 responses to “Beijing Takes Control Of Hong Kong’s Response To The City’s Covid Crisis

  1. Pingback: Covid Fight May Delay Hong Kong Chief Executive Election | China Bystander

  2. Pingback: Beijing Takes Control Of Hong Kong’s Response To The City’s Covid Crisis — China Bystander – I See Predators

  3. Pingback: Hong Kong To Mass Test By Mid-March | China Bystander

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