Hong Kong was a model of how to handle the novel coronavirus. But now it’s coming back.
In early March, Time magazine called the region “a lodestar for its ability to seemingly keep the disease at bay”, but the mistake of sending people back to work before the virus was truly dealt with was not far off.
In the first week of March, Hong Kong tried to return to a semblance of normality. Their cases have ticked up ever since.
The key to their initial successes (see February, above) was the aggressive response:
By Feb. 1, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore had all proactively implemented travel restrictions on passengers coming from the mainland, contravening the World Health Organization’s [WHO] insistence that travel bans were not necessary. The precautions came at a significant economic cost to these international hubs, which all rely on mainland China as their biggest trading partner and source of tourists.
The outright proscription of social gatherings paid huge dividends:
…Hong Kong quickly put social distancing into practice. Schools remain closed through Easter. Normally bustling shopping streets, in some of the world’s most densely packed districts, are largely devoid of foot traffic as residents voluntarily stay sequestered at home. Many businesses have either shuttered or asked employees to work from home. Movie theaters, churches and basketball courts sit empty. Mass gatherings are canceled.
Discussing the attitude of Hong Kongers – many of whom have been embroiled in a years-long struggle against their authoritarian, Chinese-controlled government – David Hui, director of the Stanley Ho Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases at the Chinese University of Hong Kong said:
“People are quite cautious now when they face a major outbreak of an infection… so they are actually compliant with public health measures even though they don’t like the government.”
At the time Hui also warned the U.S. needed to go the same route, though feared for the process here due to the politicization of the coronavirus.
Now, Hong Kong’s troubles may be sneaking back in.
Reflecting upon the relaxed rules, James Griffiths reported:
It was natural therefore that people began to relax somewhat, not only going to work instead of staying home, but also having dinner together, going to the park, and attending weddings and other large social gatherings. While face masks were still common, some people could be spotted going uncovered, particularly for short trips, and there was a general sense of slowly getting back to normal.
And many of the recent new round of cases have been from people overseas returning to Hong Kong:
In Hong Kong, 36 of the 48 COVID-19 cases reported Friday had overseas travel records, Dr. Chuang Shuk-kwan, head of the communicable disease branch of Hong Kong’s Centre for Health Protection, said during an afternoon press conference. The cases involve travel to over a dozen countries, including Singapore, the Philippines, Austria, Portugal, United Kingdom, Canada and the United States. The newly confirmed cases brings the total in Hong Kong to 256.
The Hong Kong executive has now announced a new round of plans to deal with an uptick in cases, including barring non-citizens; halting transit through the international airport; testing anyone new arriving; and once again shuttering bars and restaurants.
In other words, Hong Kong is having to hit the reset button on its attempts to stop COVID-19.
With increased calls to “reopen America’s economy” after just 7 days in mild lockdown, we would perhaps do well to heed the eventual (rather than the initial) example as it comes from Hong Kong: not so fast.