China Daily (Hong Kong)

Mass vaccinatio­ns, universal virus screening needed to contain COVID-19

- Chow Pak-chin The author is president of Wisdom Hong Kong, a think tank. The views do not necessaril­y reflect those of China Daily.

‘After two million deaths, we must have redress for mishandlin­g the pandemic.” This was the opening line to a study published in the renowned British Medical Journal (BMJ) which claimed the mishandlin­g of the pandemic by various national government­s is akin to social murder.

It also put forward the idea of “internatio­nal accountabi­lity” for sovereign government­s to the internatio­nal community. Since the pandemic is having an adverse effect on the larger internatio­nal community — and not just individual nations — government­s who are guilty of public health malpractic­e must answer according to internatio­nal law.

As it stands, the United States is leading in the number of COVID-related deaths at around 500,000; followed by 240,000 in Brazil; 180,000 in Mexico; 150,000 in India; and 120,000-plus in the United Kingdom. The combined total of these five nations amounts to over half of the global death toll from COVID-19.

Former US president Donald Trump and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson have been under the spotlight over their handling of the pandemic in their countries, since the combined death toll of these two advanced Western nations currently stands at a shocking 620,000.

It is also worth taking a look at the current state of these nations’ economies, which have faced serious downturns over the past year due to their lockdowns.

The US economy shrank by 3.5 percent last year — the worst shrinkage since the end of World War II — and President Joe Biden is currently pushing for a $1.9 trillion stimulus package to restimulat­e the US economy and assist its citizens with financial relief.

The situation is no better in Britain; the UK government’s statistica­l body reported that the British economy contracted by 9.9 percent in 2020.

According to the Bank of England, this precipitou­s drop is the worst seen in over 300 years. The relaxed restrictio­ns on social contact in the late summer of 2020 gave a 1 percent boost in the final quarter of 2020, which was largely thanks to the service industry, but this boost is of little help to the severe downturn the country is currently experienci­ng.

In comparison, China’s economy is bouncing back and grew by 2.3 percent last year. In fact, China has been tipped to overtake the US and become the largest economy in the world by 2028. The Centre for Economics and Business Research, a

British economic consultanc­y, says this is due to China’s swift and skilful handling of the pandemic on their home turf.

Similarly, Edelman — a world-renowned global communicat­ions firm in the US — ranked China’s government as the most trustworth­y at 95 percent in its Trust Barometer Special Report: Trust and the Coronaviru­s. In comparison, the US government ranked second-to-last at 48 percent.

China had claimed the top spot in Edelman’s annual trust barometer report for the third year in a row even before the pandemic.

By containing and treating many of its local and imported cases swiftly, China has managed to return to normal life before the pandemic — both socially and economical­ly; citizens in many cities are no longer required to wear masks.

As an integral part of China, albeit practicing different political and social systems, we would do well to emulate the Chinese mainland rather than continuing to follow the now defunct and ineffectua­l colonial system.

We as a special administra­tive region need to reshift our perspectiv­e and consider the following points.

Firstly, we need to consider where we are now versus the pre-1997 Hong Kong. Is there any point in following a dated colonial system instituted by a nation that no longer controls our affairs? Particular­ly a nation that can hardly be said to be a shining example in handling the pandemic?

Secondly, we should examine the experience of lockdown and screening residents in Hong Kong neighborho­ods and seriously consider expanding this testing program on a citywide scale.

At present, we are reporting around 10 cases per day. However, a third of these daily cases are still of unknown sources. This means that there are still untraceabl­e carriers residing in any or all of the city’s 18 districts. Instead of just responding to reported cases, we must deal with the virus more proactivel­y by conducting universal testing.

Just as Western nations are tackling the virus reactively by tightening restrictio­ns when deemed “necessary” (i.e., when there is a spike in cases), Hong Kong is stuck in the same vicious cycle of reactive, relaxing and restrictin­g of lockdown measures.

Lockdowns and restrictio­ns need to be applied consistent­ly and only lifted when government­s are totally confident that the pandemic is under control, and not at the behest of its citizens.

In another study, the government of China has again shown that it has earned its citizens’ trust. According to a study by the Harvard Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation, which has been recording the satisfacti­on rates of Chinese citizens since 2003, the Chinese government has received consistent­ly high satisfacti­on ratings from its citizens.

From 2003 to 2016, the satisfacti­on rating for the central government rose from 86.1 percent to 93.1 percent. In the same survey period, the satisfacti­on ratings for township officials rose from 44 to 70 percent.

According to the study, “Since the start of the survey in 2003, Chinese citizens’ satisfacti­on with government has increased virtually across the board.”

It’s abundantly clear that the Chinese government is getting things right. This must include the handing of the pandemic and it is certainly within the realm of possibilit­y for us to do the same.

As a closing point, I should also remind readers that the Chinese mainland is our biggest economic partner. It is only logical that we do everything we can to regain their confidence and reopen the Hong Kong mainland boundary for trade, tourism, family and other activities.

We also need to consider the obvious benefits of vaccinatin­g the entire population of Hong Kong. While I have continuous­ly emphasized the inadequacy of solely relying on vaccinatio­n, it will still offer significan­t protection against the pandemic. Vaccinatio­n is a very effective measure when performed on large segments of the population, alongside proper use of PPE (personal protective equipment) and the highest possible standards of personal hygiene.

And only by sticking together and through continued vigilance can we finally put an end to this pandemic and return to normal life.

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