Mr YUEN Mo (Chairman of the 52nd terms of office) April 2022
The epidemic, coupled with geopolitical tension, has posed challenges to Hong Kong. The HKSAR government must focus on bringing the epidemic under control and focus its energy on economic development. Hong Kong can then grasp the immense opportunities in the post-epidemic times, but the government also needs to prepare for possible downside risks to the economy.
The fifth wave of COVID-19 outbreak in Hong Kong came fast and furious, dealing a heavy blow to the economy. The unemployment rate has just seen the biggest increase in over 1.5 years. The Financial Secretary warned that the economy will inevitably record a recession in the first quarter of 2022. While the HKSAR government has swiftly launched financial relief measures to help industries and individuals that are severely affected by the epidemic, clean-cut anti-epidemic policies must be developed for the epidemic to be effectively controlled in the long run, and for public life and economic activities to return to normal as early as possible.
Vaccination vital to anti-epidemic efforts
Whereas the number of confirmed local COVID-19 cases has been in decline after peaking in late March, the relatively high incidence of serious cases and death is worthy of concern. Fortunately, with the country’s full support, Hong Kong’s capabilities to cope with the epidemic, from virus testing capacity to quarantine and medical facilities, have significantly improved. Following advice from Mainland experts, the HKSAR government now focuses on preventing infections and reducing the number of severe cases and deaths, and is able to direct resources more accurately to those who are most in need, including the elderly and other vulnerable groups.
The impact of the fifth wave of the epidemic is particularly serious on the elderly and children, which can be attributed to the low vaccination rates among these groups. Today, many data are backing the effectiveness of vaccination in preventing severe cases and deaths. There is no doubt that Hong Kong urgently needs to boost the vaccination rate in a more rapid and effective manner in order to lower the risk of severe cases and deaths, which will also lessen the burden on the local healthcare system.
Through arrangements such as outreach vaccination programs at elderly homes, the HKSAR government has been actively promoting vaccination among the old and young, albeit the progress is slow. To speed things up, the authorities can explore working with private and social welfare organizations to streamline manpower deployment and the vaccination workflow, so as to provide the public with greater flexibility and convenience in getting vaccinated. The authorities should simultaneously step up promoting the benefits of vaccination to the elderly, their families, and parents of young children. To raise the overall vaccination rate, the authorities may even need to consider more forceful policies, such as providing incentives for vaccination and raising the costs for the unvaccinated.
Strong backing for Hong Kong from the country
In the Mainland, the authorities have been adhering to the strategy of “guarding against the importation of cases and the resurgence of domestic infections”. Their decisive manner and pertinent measures, from universal testing in Shenzhen done within a short period of time, to the lockdown of Shanghai in phases, have proven highly effective in controlling the epidemic and minimizing impact on the economy and people’s daily life, and serve as good examples for Hong Kong in its fight against the epidemic.
President Xi Jinping has already given important instruction on fighting the fifth wave of the epidemic in Hong Kong, saying that the overriding mission of the HKSAR government right now is to stabilize and control the outbreak. At the “Two Sessions”, Premier Li Keqiang, among various country leaders, also expressed concern about the outbreak in Hong Kong, and stressed that the country offers its full support for Hong Kong to combat the epidemic. As long as the HKSAR government follows the directive of the Central government and bears the main responsibility in the anti-epidemic fight, leveraging the country’s support and mobilizing the local community, the fight can be won.
In fact, gaining control over the epidemic is key to stabilizing the local economy. Whether economic development and public life can get back on track and jobs can be secured depends very much on the speed and effectiveness of the city’s anti-epidemic work; speedy and effective control of the epidemic will safeguard public health and let life return to normal, and only then can the focus be directed at economic development and livelihood improvement.
The epidemic, coupled with geopolitical tension, has posed unprecedented challenges to Hong Kong. Now more than ever, the HKSAR government must unite and lead people across sectors, focusing on bringing the epidemic under control by enhancing the city’s anti-epidemic efforts, and adjusting its strategy if the situation necessitates, so that society can get back on track and focus its energy on economic development. As soon as this is achieved, and the border with the Mainland is reopened, Hong Kong can then leverage its unique strengths and role in the country’s development in the new era, and grasp the immense opportunities in the post-epidemic times. And certainly, the HKSAR government needs to prepare for possible downside risks to the economy posed by complex, ever-changing international political situations.