Hong Kong gets thousands of mainland Chinese visitors each day. How it’s kept coronavirus at bay

This story is a person in a 3-component series on how Higher China regions—Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau—have responded to the coronavirus outbreak.

In China, exactly where the novel coronavirus now recognized as Covid-19 commenced, contagion distribute at an exponential fee, rocketing from a handful of conditions in Wuhan at the close of December to around 80,000 circumstances nationwide as of mid-March.

In other international locations, these as South Korea, Italy and Iran, the virus has transmitted quickly, infecting 1000’s in a make any difference of times. Still in Hong Kong, the range of circumstances so much has crept to 141 since the virus was recognized on Dec. 31.

Hong Kong’s low an infection charge will come regardless of it sharing a 19-mile-extended border with mainland China, as nicely as a connecting bridge, an airport, and quite a few seaports. Over 300,000 people percolate among Hong Kong and the mainland just about every working day and—thanks to a new higher velocity teach line—tourists can race the 25 miles from Shenzhen in mainland China to Hong Kong in a little about 15 minutes.

While new instances keep on to be described and Hong Kong continues to be vigilant, the small area of 7.4 million persons appears to be so much to have kept a huge outbreak of Covid-19 at bay.

Hong Kong&#8217s early response

Hong Kong was amid the 1st locations exterior of mainland China to identify the Covid-19 outbreak as a general public emergency—doing so on Jan. 25, two times just after the metropolis confirmed its initially two instances. But the government had started preparation for incoming infection as early as Dec. 31, when China 1st noted the novel coronavirus to the World Wellbeing Organization.

That day, Hong Kong applied temperature screenings at border factors and started warning health-related workers of the new SARS-like virus. On Jan. 7, Hong Kong’s Legislative Council moved to introduce new legal guidelines that would qualify the unidentified virus as a &#8220notifiable&#8221 ailment, supplying the federal government the right to quarantine suspected cases.

Travellers have on deal with masks, as a precautionary evaluate versus the COVID-19 coronavirus, as they commute on a tram in Hong Kong on March 12, 2020. The city has mainly been spared from a important outbreak.
ANTHONY WALLACE/AFP by way of Getty Images

Because January, the govt has opened three internet sites for quarantining most likely coronavirus people, like the 244 Hong Kong inhabitants not long ago repatriated from Hubei and the more than 300 returning from the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan.

“Most people today in the epidemiologist entire world stage to Hong Kong as the gold common for epidemic management,” Hong Kong University dean of drugs Gabriel Leung said, listing the city’s “open and transparent communication” and “vigorous software of general public wellness principles” as factors why.

Hong Kong&#8217s SARS legacy

Hong Kong appears to have formulated all those people positive ways considering the fact that it was struck by the intense acute respiratory syndrome or SARS epidemic in 2003—another novel coronavirus outbreak that contaminated 1,755 folks and killed 299 regionally. At the time, the federal government came less than criticism for its weak management of the crisis, like lax communication and a failure to guarantee individuals ended up correctly isolated.

Of the 1,755 SARS clients in Hong Kong, 386 have been wellness treatment employees, indicating that the protection of hospital workers experienced been jeopardized. The illness distribute easily in between clients at hospitals, way too. The facilities lacked proper isolation wards, leaving SARS-carrying sufferers lying beside the uninfected.

Considering that then, Hong Kong general public hospitals have added all-around 1,400 isolation beds and the town&#8217s Princess Margaret Clinic opened a exclusive infectious disease center in 2007.

On the other hand, even now, the general public has an unfavorable view of the government’s response to the Covid-19 epidemic.

Open up border debate

Hong Kong’s initial coronavirus case arrived from Wuhan, crossing into Hong Kong at its border with the mainland city of Shenzhen someday in January. In response, the governing administration implemented temperature screenings on all arrivals from China and, on Jan. 25, introduced flights and trains to Wuhan had been cancelled.

Having said that, this was a bit of political showmanship: Wuhan was currently on lockdown, authorities had shut its airport and prepare station two times earlier. For many in Hong Kong, the federal government motion seemed as well little too late.

Hong Kong professional-democracy district councillor Eason Chan pushes a cart of confront masks and cleaning merchandise in Lam Tin in Hong Kong on March 14, 2020. Hong Kong&#8217s rival political camps have embraced totally free face masks as a tactic to woo prospective voters as protest-era politics shade the city&#8217s response.
ISAAC LAWRENCE/AFP by way of Getty Photographs

On Feb. 3, a new union of community sector wellness care personnel, named the Hospital Authority Employees Alliance, organized a series of strikes to desire that Main Govt Carrie Lam near the border with China completely. Lam had suspended operations at 6 border factors presently, starting Jan. 30.

Immediately after the 2nd day of the strike, Lam conceded and shut four more border points, leaving just 3 open: the airport, the Hong-Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge, and the Shenzhen Bay ferry port. Lam said it would be discriminatory to block all mainland China readers from coming into Hong Kong, but critics were being quick to point out the hypocrisy when Lam’s administration unilaterally blocked arrivals from South Korea on Feb. 24 as Covid-19 instances on the Korean peninsula skyrocketed.

“Closing the border before is a little something the governing administration could have carried out,” Leung mentioned. This 7 days, Hong Kong noted nine new cases in clients who had returned to Hong Kong from other metropolitan areas going through Covid-19 outbreaks. As soon as once again, the general public and even members of government are calling for stricter border controls.

general public sentiment

The government’s approval rating was pushed to an all-time very low previous yr by months of protests and that fundamental discontent carries on to politicize the public’s perception of the Covid-19 outbreak. For instance, Lam was slow to persuade people today to have on surgical masks in community, a shift some considered as her administration attempting to uphold a controversial mask ban it enacted amid the protests previous calendar year. (Courts had considered the rule unconstitutional.)

Donning a experience mask to protect public wellness was normalized in Hong Kong all through the SARS outbreak. The city&#8217s citizens, like a lot of throughout East Asia, typically use facial area masks when struggling from any illness—even the common cold. So, irrespective of no official instruction to do so, Hong Kongers started stockpiling and putting on surgical masks in late January.

In contrast to governments in Singapore and Macau, which ordered new shipments of masks and rationed their distribution, the Hong Kong governing administration failed to safe mask materials, and the scarcity ignited general public worry. On Feb. 5, a line of an estimated 10,000 people today appeared over night to acquire two containers of masks each and every from an importer that had designed a specific shipment.

People don encounter masks, as a precautionary evaluate from the COVID-19 coronavirus, as they wander on a Kowloon promenade overlooking Victoria Harbor and the skyline of Hong Kong Island on March 13, 2020.
ANTHONY WALLACE/AFP by way of Getty Photographs

In Hong Kong, the public has adopted some components of social distancing, too—leaving seats on subway trains empty and holing up at house on weekends. Community educational facilities have also been suspended by governing administration edict given that the Lunar New 12 months crack, which began Jan. 25, and students won’t return right until late April.

It&#8217s challenging to decide what the key component has been in retaining Hong Kong’s infection rate so low, Leung claimed, but the “whole package” of open conversation, social distancing, very good cleanliness procedures and helpful hospital procedure is acquiring an result.

“Policy makers will need to appear and see what&#8230other areas with powerful control have completed and check with, &#8216Which of all those ways would be feasible in my very own area and recognized by [my]culture,’&#8221 Leung claimed. &#8220But that is not a trivial activity, and it is one thing we’re all doing work in direction of at the second.”

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—Let’s recall what we realized in WWII, as effectively as in 2008

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