We must remain vigilant with risk of a COVID-19 comeback

With less than two weeks left before the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region elects its next chief executive, the city continues to recover steadily from the fifth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, with social distancing measures being further relaxed in a bid to restore business vitality and make more people happy. If we can keep the omicron virus at bay, it’ll create a good transitional period for a better administration handover.

The first phase of easing the social distancing curbs has produced instant results. Restaurants, theme parks, the Peak, retail outlets and other outdoor venues have been packed with elated crowds hungry for entertainment, food and drinks, giving a shot in the arm to the pandemic-stricken economy.

As we enjoy a more relaxed atmosphere, we need to be extra vigilant as the outbreak may rebound. If the situation continues to improve and all the other anti-pandemic facilities the central government is helping to build are completed within a month, Hong Kong will be in a very strong position to tackle any similar public health crisis in future. That will surely help the next administration to kick-start the economy, renegotiate resuming quarantine-free travel between the SAR and the Chinese mainland, and attend to other important issues quickly.

It’s the primary responsibility of the current HKSAR government to ensure that everything is on track before the new administration takes over on July 1. Containing the pandemic successfully, in particular, is one of the major remaining duties of the current administration. Hong Kong cannot afford to have another outbreak as serious as the fifth wave.

We’re lucky to have “one country, two systems” under which the central government, at the HKSAR’s request, has mobilized the mainland’s best resources to deal with the pandemic during one of the most difficult periods in Hong Kong’s history.

With the motherland’s tremendous support in building isolation facilities for Hong Kong, sending medical expertise and staff, as well as ensuring continuous and adequate supplies of food, daily necessities, traditional Chinese medicine and disease-prevention materials and equipment, Hong Kong is able to stand up again and emerge from the shadow of death.

In fighting the pandemic, the HKSAR government had once deviated from the “dynamic zero infection” strategy, resulting in skyrocketing infections and death cases in March. Fortunately, by ultimately following the strategy closely, the pandemic is gradually subsiding.

I’m sure the current SAR administration is doing its best to suppress the pandemic to allow a smooth transition for the next administration. However, the government cannot do it single-handedly without the continued support of the entire community. Hong Kong has yet to ride out the outbreak and we need solidarity and vigilance to defeat the virus.

What Hong Kong residents can do is simple. We must make the best use of the nine isolation projects being built with the central government’s support, all of which are due to be completed by mid-May, providing an additional 50,000 beds that will strengthen Hong Kong’s capability in dealing with the pandemic. We should treasure the mainland’s help and show our respect and gratitude by using these facilities properly and respectably. We should continue to observe the social distancing restrictions to prevent the virus from returning.

More importantly, residents should get themselves fully vaccinated for their own protection and help Hong Kong achieve herd immunity. The official statistics have told a horrifying story — more than 70 percent of those who died in the fifth wave of the pandemic had not been jabbed. According to the latest figures, 93 percent of Hong Kong’s population (excluding the 3 to 11 age group) have received their first vaccine dose; 87 percent have received their second dose; and more than 3.1 million residents have got their third jab. For those aged between 3 and 11, the overall vaccination rate is still unsatisfactory, with only 66 percent having received their first vaccine dose and 39 percent having received their second dose.

Hong Kong is an international financial, trade and aviation hub, so reconnecting with the rest of the world is very important. Equally important is reconnecting with the mainland as a large number of local residents have immediate family members, close relatives and friends living on the mainland. The pandemic, which has now lasted more than two years, has dealt a great blow to these families, creating serious social problems for them, including marriages and their children’s education.

Moreover, the growing dependency of Hong Kong’s economy on mainland visitors and investment has made resuming quarantine-free cross-boundary travel imperative. The city’s latest jobless rate climbed to 5 percent last month and is expected to rise further. COVID-19 has greatly hindered Hong Kong’s integration into the booming Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area, which is not only an ideal place for our young professionals to develop their careers, but also a big attraction to many multinational companies that use Hong Kong as a convenient gateway to the vast market in the Greater Bay Area.

To maintain Hong Kong’s competitiveness as a global financial and trade center, we cannot afford to further delay resuming quarantine-free travel between the SAR and the mainland. But, the prerequisite is that we’ve to adhere strictly to the nation’s “dynamic zero infection” policy.

Let this be the main target of our concerted efforts to ensure that quarantine-free cross-boundary travel can resume as soon as possible.

The author is a member of the Hong Kong Association of Media Veterans and a freelance writer.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.