It’s the sixth day in a row with over 100 COVID-19 cases in Hong Kong. These seem like quite unusual stats. We don’t have exponential growth, and this isn’t really “flattening the curve” because that usually comes after weeks of growth. But whatever we call it, 1100+ cases in the last 2 weeks is obviously putting a strain on hospitals (and quarantine facilities).
The government seems to be responding in slow motion. When it emerged that more than 20,000 people had been exempted from testing and self-isolation - and that some of these rules had recently been further relaxed - it seemed a fairly obvious explanation for the surge in cases. They insisted that it wasn’t - and anyway it was necessary for the economy. Fortunately, some challenged this argument:
Gabriel Leung, dean of the faculty of medicine at the University of Hong Kong, said that the current wave of Covid-19 infections was brought in from outside of Hong Kong, most likely by people exempted from mandatory quarantine
The government eventually announced several changes to the rules to take effect from July 29th.
Health experts questioned why the changes would only come into effect from Wednesday rather than immediately, saying such workers were likely to be the reason for the recent surge in infections and that the measures were too little, too late. [SCMP]
Apart from that, the problem here was not that the government wanted to make life a little easier for sailors, it was that they failed to put in place any proper procedures. It was surely predictable that sailors would go to places where social distancing was difficult (small restaurants, cheap lodging houses) and potentially infect some of the local population, which seems to be what happened in East Kowloon.
But the really big news is that Wednesday will bring even more drastic restrictions that will affect almost everyone in Hong Kong.
- No dine-in at restaurants (for 7 days)
- 2 person limit on groups gathering
- Masks to to be compulsory outdoors in public places
No eating out? Hong Kong has some very tiny apartments (and also a lot of modestly sized apartments with three generations living in close proximity to each other). Eating out is almost a necessity for many (and a lot more affordable than in other parts of the world), but it will simply not be possible for at least seven days. One might almost think that our very highly paid Chief Executive and her well-paid advisors and senior civil servants don’t quite understand the way ordinary people live.
Talking of which, Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung was asked where working people can have lunch (given the dine-in ban and mask rules): "You can eat takeaway in the office. And we do not have restriction on country parks.” That’s a great idea - everyone can go to a country park for their lunch (in their chauffeur-driven car, perhaps).
Maybe you can try to work from home in your crowded apartment. If it’s possible and allowed - and if you work in an office, that is. Otherwise, well good luck.
Ah, yes, you might say, but there are lots of clusters around restaurants, so action was needed. Well….one was the very large dinner gathering in Mong Kok which clearly broke the rules that were in place at that time (and 33 people from there have been infected as of yesterday). A birthday party with 20 tables in a Tuen Mun restaurant led to a similar number of cases and there have been 15 cases from a large group in a Kwai Fong restaurant [more info].
What if the limit of 8 people dining together had been left in place for a while longer?
Meanwhile, it’s hard to see how the limit on gatherings can be enforced. Or wearing masks outside, for that matter.
And we have the obvious problem that imposing so many different restrictions will make it impossible to know what has worked. And people have been staying at home, which must have an effect.
Watch this space.