Confusion and chaos in Hong Kong as leaders figure out virus response

HONG KONG – From week to week as infections swept through the city, people in Hong Kong watched the government’s coronavirus policies change.

First, officials say they have no plans to socialize in January, then Closed immediately Bars and gyms and banned flights from eight countries. In February, officials announced they would check every resident, then apparently abandoned those plans this month. And on Thursday, public beaches were closed just three days after Carrie Lam, the city’s leader, raised the possibility of easing Covid-19 restrictions.

Like Hong Kong this week surpass one million coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic – a staggering number for a city with single-digit daily cases during most health crises – residents say the virus policies The government’s seesaw withdrawal has created confusion and chaos. There is no possibility adhere to the mainland’s zero-Covid strategyHong Kong officials have provided conflicting and inconsistent details on how the city will respond to the current outbreak.

Now, some fear that the government’s failure to control the virus has pushed the Beijing government to creep into China’s semi-autonomous territory.

Since the outbreak began, China has flooded Hong Kong with what it sees as much-needed reinforcements, including donations of traditional Chinese medicine and medical protective gear. Chinese epidemiologists have been dispatched to advise health officials, and more than a thousand technicians and medical staff have been dispatched to examine and care for patients.

A temporary bridge has been erected to connect Hong Kong with the Chinese city of Shenzhen in order to move materials and personnel more quickly. Dozens of construction workers have been sent to build temporary government isolation facilities and makeshift hospitals.

Many of Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing politicians were quick to thank the “Fatherland” for support. John Lee, Hong Kong’s administrative secretary, equated the outbreak with the pro-democracy protests of 2019 that led to a far-reaching crackdown from Beijing and helped Opening of the National Security Law.

“Whenever Hong Kong finds it difficult to overcome enormous difficulties beyond our means, it will provide us with the strongest and most reliable backing.” , Mr. Lee wrote in China Daily, an English-owned newspaper. of the Communist Party.

Others see the intervention as the latest sign that the city is being brought under the yoke of Beijing irreversibly, despite promises that it will retain some degree of independence.

Jean-Pierre Cabestan, a political scientist at Hong Kong Baptist University, said: “Hong Kong people are very unhappy about Carrie Lam and the government because their incompetence has given the central government an opportunity. more central intervention and control”.

At times, some hesitation about the policies of Lam and other officials appears to be a response to increased pressure from the mainland. When cases spiked between February and Overcrowded hospitals begin to treat patients sitting on the sidewalksXi Jinping, China’s top leader, warned Hong Kong officials to “make controlling the epidemic as soon as possible a top priority”.

A few days later, Lam announced plans to test every resident starting in March. The city waited for more details that never came. Instead, Hong Kong’s health minister said the government could not rule out a lockdown to conduct mass testing, contrary to Ms Lam’s earlier statements.

With some details to cling to and fear type Locking doors keeps people stuck at home With little food on the mainland, many Hong Kong residents rush to buy the necessary things from the grocery store. As a feeling of uneasiness struck, Mrs. Lam stopped giving regular press conferences. Criticisms from her pro-Beijing colleagues increased when virus mortality rate Among the elderly, a large number of them unvaccinated in Hong Kong, has soared to one of the tallest in the world.

“The whole government approach seems to be chaotic,” said Lau Siu-kai, a Hong Kong scholar who advises Beijing on policy. “The goal to be achieved is not clear and the tactics used seem unstable and subject to change.”

He added: “You can see all the complaints all over Hong Kong today. “It worries Beijing.”

Lam returned to the media last week with the promise of better communication to the public through daily press conferences. But when asked for more details about mass testing, she said she didn’t. A day later, when asked again, Mrs. Lam angrily scolded a reporter for “unnecessarily taking up time”.

“People like Carrie Lam and other Hong Kong officials are always anticipating Beijing’s wishes,” said Willy Lam, an assistant professor of politics at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. “Beijing’s footprint is now more important than local opinion to many of Hong Kong’s top officials.”

Beijing’s crackdown on pro-democracy candidates in Hong Kong and a “only patriots ‘city legislature’ ensured that any dissenting voices in the once-free city would be silenced. Many have failed to understand the shift in policy decisions that are now being made behind closed doors.

For example, Hong Kong has kept a ban on airlines carrying four or more passengers who have tested positive for the virus, but The daily local case count has reached tens of thousands, and some banned countries have fewer cases. However, officials continued to stress the need to send those who tested positive to government quarantine centers, despite Hong Kong has now recorded more than a million cases.

Researchers It is estimated that half of the population in Hong Kong may have been infected.

Yvonne Kai, a 46-year-old baker in the busy Wan Chai district of Hong Kong, said: “We are really confused, frustrated and tired of all these so-called new policies. “Different people tell us different policies every day.”

She added, “I feel like we can’t trust the government.”

Last week, as officials worried about the capacity of public mortgages and the shortage of coffins, the government unexpectedly announced that hair salons would reopen while bars, gyms, etc. Gymnastics, outdoor playgrounds and schools remain closed. Regina Ip, a lawmaker and adviser to Ms Lam, welcomed the decision on Twitter.

Ip wrote: “I urge the government to reopen golf courses, tennis courts and other facilities for non-contact sports.

Yet when Mrs. Lam local press address on Monday, she did not appear to offer more clarity on the city’s virus policies. Instead, she appears to have a message for Chinese officials, who recently locked up millions of citizens in neighboring Shenzhen after the discovery of hundreds of coronavirus cases there.

“If you want us to follow what Shenzhen is doing,” Lam said, “I’m afraid we won’t be able to keep up.”

On Thursday, Ms Lam told the media she would also review many of the city’s tough social management rules. As she spoke, high barricades were being erected at public beaches as part of measures she had promised to avoid just days earlier.

“I have a very strong feeling that people’s tolerance is waning,” she said.

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