3 reasons that the Hong Kong government fails to encounter the pandemic?

Most developed countries are celebrating the end of COVID restriction and resuming of international travel. However, Hong Kong has been struggling to fight against the spread of omicron since the beginning of this year.  It has already been about six weeks, but the daily figure is still increasing, and people cannot see when the pandemic will end.

Some people blame that the so-called ‘COVID-free’ policy has made the Hong Kong government falling into a dilemma. Although the city does not have the capacity to adopt a virus-intolerance policy, it still needs to continue such strategy because its relationship with Mainland China. Indeed, politics have played an important role in determining Hong Kong pandemic policy in the last two years, especially when putting into consideration of all those complicated societal issues causing by the anti-extradition law movement and the National Security Law. However, despite having one of the strictest oversea travel policy, Hong Kong performed well in the first four waves of the pandemic.

So why Hong Kong fails at the fifth wave recently? Below are the three contributing factors.

Mainland China

Primarily, every Hong Kong policy needs to be associated with Mainland China. As a pro-Beijing government, Carrie Lam and her team have no choice but to adopt China’s national policy in dealing with the pandemic, namely, the ‘COVID-free’ policy. Politically, this is to uphold the role of the country under the ‘one country, two systems’ framework. The SAR policies are aligned with the state. Practically, given that Hong Kong has so much interactions with Mainland China nowadays, it has to adopt a similar policy in order to reopen its border. Although Hong Kong is an international hub, its economic focus has long been the Mainland. Therefore, it makes sense for the Lam’s government to prioritise China in its COVID policy.

Not to mention, the Hong Kong government is unable to provide a clear timeline to reopen the border because Beijing does not have one neither (due to the lack of transparency).

On the other hand, Beijing would not permit the Hong Kong government shifting away from the national COVID-free policy. Imagine how other major cities in China, like Shanghai and Guangzhou, will react if Hong Kong has decided to adopt the ‘living with COVID’ strategy like many western countries do. Indeed, they would have to follow national government’s guidelines and would never be allowed to shift their policies. However, if the Hong Kong government shifts its strategy, enterprises may find loopholes to enter and exit China. Eventually, there will be more COVID cases importing to China, and they may put China’s two years’ effort of securing its health care system at risk again.

‘Low’ vaccination rate

Up to 19th February 2022, 75.4% of the Hong Kong population has undertaken the second vaccine dose. This is indeed not a poor figure worldwide. However, it is still lower than many developed countries, where those are easing their restrictions after 90% of the people are fully vaccinated. Note that Hong Kong is one of the first cities in the world starting its vaccination program. However, it just seems so difficult for Hong Kong to reach the 90% vaccination rate.

Like anti-vaxxers in other countries, there are political reasons that some Hongkongers are against vaccination. Especially after all the political incidents since 2019, people in Hong Kong has limited trust to their government.

However, the aged population should be indeed be the major concern. According to HKSAR data, only 72.17% within the age group of 60-69 are fully vaccinated, 56.77% within the age of 70-79, and only 27.9% for 80 and above. In order to reach the 90% vaccination rate, they should be the targeted population.

This is reasonable as many elders are chronically ill. They have no incentive to risk themselves for vaccination. Not to mention, they would rather stay at home than travel overseas. So whether the government decide to reopen the border does not affect them.

The Hong Kong government has begun to introduce policy, such as the ‘vaccine pass’, to push its people to be vaccinated. But again, this does not affect the elders, as many of them stay at home most of the time.

Lack of preventive measures

Finally,  it seems that the Hong Kong government never expects an outbreak that happened in Europe and America.

Hong Kong’s public health system has long been overloaded, even before the pandemic. With limited professional staffs and resources, public hospitals are always crowded with people. During the flu season every year, you will see beds everywhere along the hallway. And if you need to book an appointment with a specialist, it usually takes three to six months.

Fortunately, the spike of COVID outbreak remained low in Hong Kong since 2020, and therefore the system did not collapse.

However, the government has never considered investing more resources into the public health system. Instead, even when the public health system has collapsed in the last few weeks, the government still attempts to increase testing facilities. This eventually could increase the number of hospitalisation, and thereby increase the burden of doctors and nurses.

It is never too late to make some changes. However, if we look back over the last two years, the government should have allocate more resources into the public health system than other countries. Not just in testing sites, but also in quarantine facilities, and hospitals, given that it is adhering the ‘COVID-free’ policy.


This is all about comparison.

I am not saying that the western world performed well during the pandemic. In fact, most countries did not.. However, when the Europeans and Americans are moving out from social restrictions and entering into the ‘post-COVID’ era, Hongkongers are still suffering from the outbreak.

It is never too late for the Carrie Lam’s government to consider other strategy managing the pandemic. Because of all those political reasons, the future of Hong Kong will remain unclear indeed.

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