I am a doctor practicing in Singapore, having moved from Hong Kong to Singapore some 40 years ago.
Last week I saw a patient who has been transferred from Hong Kong to Singapore. Her husband works in a company that has manufacturing plants in Southeast Asia and has to travel very often to visit those plants. Because of the quarantine rules enforced on all going into Hong Kong, he was unable to do his work in the most efficient way, and therefore the company transferred him and his family to Singapore, where there is no quarantine requirement. Now that they have settled in Singapore, they are actually thinking of getting permanent-residency status. If that happens, Hong Kong would lose a valuable citizen permanently.
There is no argument that that’s just an anecdotal tale of a family moving to Singapore because of the quarantine requirement in Hong Kong, which makes Hong Kong a less-hospitable place for doing business compared with Singapore. But the statistics of migration out of Hong Kong, of money flowing into Singapore, and of both the number of expats and Hong Kong people moving to Singapore support that scenario. Housing prices in Singapore have been rising, while housing prices in Hong Kong are reportedly going down.
On the surface, that picture of talent and money moving from Hong Kong to Singapore might seem to be rosy for Singapore and bad for Hong Kong. But that judgment is based on the assumption that it’s a zero-sum game between Hong Kong and Singapore. But that is not the case. A thriving Hong Kong and a thriving Singapore would make East Asia a thriving place for business and is good for both cities. It is not a zero-sum game, but is instead a synergistic game, in which the increasing prosperity of both cities is beneficial to all.
On the surface, that picture of talent and money moving from Hong Kong to Singapore might seem to be rosy for Singapore and bad for Hong Kong. … But that is not the case. … It is not a zero-sum game, but is instead a synergistic game, in which the increasing prosperity of both cities is beneficial to all
From April 2022, fully vaccinated individuals could enter Singapore without any form of quarantine or stay-at-home order. There was indeed a surge in the number of cases of COVID-19. However, the number of deaths, the percentage of usage of intensive-care-unit beds, and hospitalization did not increase. In fact, from August on, those numbers are decreasing such that as of Sept 1, there is not even any requirement for being fully vaccinated to enter Singapore. At the start of the pandemic, the director of health of Singapore at the very first webinar held for doctors in Singapore pointed out very clearly: Singapore’s economic survival depends on it being an open city.
However, if the pandemic is not controlled, ICUs, hospitals and hence the health system will be overwhelmed. In order to prevent the health system from being overwhelmed, a short period of lockdown was necessary. Once the vaccine was available, the strategy was to get virtually everyone vaccinated and then open up the city. That was the plan, and the plan worked. There is now overwhelming evidence that the death rate, and the rate of ICU utilization among fully vaccinated individuals, and in particular, those with the boosted, third dose of vaccination, are very low. Further, the symptoms of COVID-19 among them are so mild that to many, the experience of being infected was often no worse than that of having the flu.
Perhaps it’s time for Hong Kong not to worry about the number of cases. The experience in Singapore has shown that in the vaccinated, particularly those who are boosted, COVID-19 appears just like the “normal” flu. There was no increase in hospitalization, no increase in ICU usage, and no increase in the number of deaths.
As an added suggestion, if authorities are still unsure about opening up like Singapore, perhaps the purchase of a COVID-19 insurance policy might be imposed on all entering Hong Kong from overseas. The actuarial could be calculated regarding how much that should be. The main problem presented by the quarantine policy is the loss of productive time for the business executive. Based on the figure of arrivals in Hong Kong for the month of July 2022, where around 50,000 people entered Hong Kong, a lowly sum of HK$1,000 ($127) would yield the Hong Kong government HK50 million. Surely, for the business executive, the payment of HK$1,000 is better than being cooped up in a hotel for a few days as part of the quarantine.
China wants Hong Kong to succeed. China wants Hong Kong to continue as a major financial center. The continuing outflow of talent and money from Hong Kong is detrimental to Hong Kong and ultimately, detrimental to China as well. That outflow could be temporary, but on the other hand, as the story of my patient was narrated at the beginning, it could be permanent. If it becomes permanent, that will be a total loss to Hong Kong. Isn’t it time to reconsider the COVID-19 policy in Hong Kong? To revisit the idea and the strategy adopted by Singapore and apply that to Hong Kong?
The author is a physician by training, and a specialist in hematology who works in Singapore.
The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.