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Keeping Calm while Coping/Cowering with COVID

By William Stork

(Editor’s Note: Bill Stork’s latest update from Hong Kong details the Government’s continuing success at containing COVID19 cases. Bill explains important technology, communications and vaccination initiatives, all designed to open more of Hong Kong and return life to normality. He told us that he thinks what is happening is that the Government’s success, “even with the National Security Act,  is now being used to provide encouragement for the populace to be patriots.” At the same time, Bill maintains his own one-year near total self-isolation, but is “hopeful”  for the future, despite the increased restrictions from Beijing. You will find the contrasts to the United States fascinating.)

I am impressed! Here we seem to be beating back Covid and we are seeing signs of slowly returning to a somewhat normality.

The Hong Kong government, one that had been seeing increasing hostility from the population that resulted in weekend violence between activists and the police, has been tempered by a new Beijing-imposed National Security Act. And Beijing is actively supporting Hong Kong’s effort to thwart Covid as a means of regaining the trust of the population. It seems to be working.

We have had tight restrictions to deal with but these are now being eased due to the success in fighting Covid. While mask wearing and physical distancing is still being required, restaurants, bars and other dining facilities no longer have to close at 6:00pm but can continue to serve until 10:00. The limit of two persons to a table is now increased to four, while mask-wearing is still mandated save when eating or drinking. The government is relying on the hope that the “LeaveHomeSafe” QR-code app recently introduced by the Center for Health Protection (CHP) will suffice, as it requires patrons to register their location upon entrance, or to give their name and telephone number should a Covid-positive case emerge from someone in attendance so that all can be tracked and tested. The QR-code can also be used in taxis and at museums and libraries.

Sports facilities and sports fields are once again opened. Schools resume in-person classes in March and the standard Testing Assessments for three of the primary levels will be suspended so that teachers can focus on current lessons. Plans for the reopening of fitness centers, hairdressing salons, massage parlors, and karaoke rooms are due to follow soon.

How did a population of our size get to this wonderful situation especially when considering the density in which the people live here?

Partly this is due to the very tight restrictions, but also much is due to the excellent effort of the CHP. Am I impressed? Yes, I have been most pleased with how the Hong Kong government has responded to the virus pandemic. In the past two weeks the number of cases being reported daily have gone from 54 to 32 and now down to 12 identified or suspected of preliminary Covid infection.

And it is the Center for Health Protection that gets the praise for its so effective Covid control apparatus, excellent at identifying-testing-tracing-isolating; they find sources of a possible spreader and take everyone away to huge quarantine facilities, even turning the major convention center into a quarantine center:

It is here where those that have been in contact with those identified as Covid-positive and those arriving in Hong Kong and having a Covid-positive test are sent, to be monitored by health professionals for a 14-day period. Other such quarantine centers and camps have been built.

Though the borders are closed, there are still Hong Kongers returning home, and some are sent to hotels, rented for this purpose. (What with no tourism, hotels are grateful for the income.) All passengers are given a quick one-hour test upon arrival at the airport.

Each evening the CHP reports on the daily Covid cases with information on the age, gender, location of each case and what the CHP is doing as a result. These reports are amazingly detailed, especially with regard to follow-up plans and procedures. Often those in close contact are sent to quarantine centers. Residents in a huge towering residential building, where a case suspect lives, are given mandates for testing, with a $5000 fine for non-compliance.

More recently the cluster-location plan has included ‘ambush lockdowns’ where the police quickly set up barricades that close off several city blocks of suspected clusters, barring entrance and exit to all. Then the CHP goes door-to-door doing quick saliva tests on all residents; those not answering their doors are given summons to appear for later testing, again with a non-compliance fine providing motivation. The visiting goes until 2:00am and the barricades are removed at 7:00am.

While this has had minimal effectiveness in finding cases, it has been effective in getting the populace as a whole tested. The CHP has testing centers widely distributed. Test sample bottles are available at post offices and three test centers, and bins for their return are also available there.

But even more importantly, 40% of the populace who had earlier indicated in a survey that they would avoid a vaccination now seem eager to get one. All seem to want a jab! A million doses of SinoVac were delivered to Hong Kong last Friday, and the government already had plans ready for their use.

Here again, I am mightily impressed. The government has ordered batches from five different providers (two of which are China-based), and individuals will have their choice as to which jab they will get. (Here shots are referred to as ‘jabs’.) Initially there will be one vaccination center and a second one, also to open in a hospital, will start two weeks later. Eventually there will be 21 such centers, with at least one in each of Hong Kong’s 18 districts.

As is typical, the government leader gets the first shot, and Chief Executive Carrie Lam got her jab with much publicity.

To get going, the Center for Health Protection (CHP) announced that bookings for vaccinations for the top priority group (hospital workers and those over 65) would be open two days ago. At midnight the online site was available, and the rush was so great that it crashed the system. Almost immediately all the spaces for vaccinations were fully booked for the first two weeks.

Eventually, there will be five of the vaccines available. Pfizer’s arrives at the end of March, and thereafter Hong Kongers will be able to choose which vaccine they want to have administered. The goal, as in elsewhere, will be to eventually achieve herd immunity.

Recent reports indicate that some who have been lightly infected but not enough to be noticed or identified by tests will have immunity, and that there are others that are naturally immune. These added to the numbers vaccinated will move the population towards a 75% status which is what experts indicate is the desired minimum number.

It’s exciting to think of that possibility, and it is so much due to the efficiency and planning of Hong Kong’s Center for Health Protection.


We welcome your comments below.

2 comments to Keep Calm While Coping

  • Bill McGlashan

    Very nice to get this thorough and optimistic coverage, especially after all the negative news about Hong Kong in the US press.
    Look forward to re-connecting with you at our Class 60th, hopefully including Jasmine. Until then, Christney and I wish you all the best, including ongoing good health.

  • Charles E. Valier

    Bill, while I am happy that the vaccine is coming to your outpost, I find the control by the Hong Kong health service chilling – ambush lockdowns! Here in Missouri, while we started slowly we have completed giving first and second doses to medical professionals, nursing home residents and those over 65. I am scheduled for a second “shot” in a few days. The next group that are receiving shots are school teachers and essential workers. Our system, which is voluntary, involves signing up online with one of our local hospitals or the health department, waiting for an invitation and going to a local site. My wife and I went to a nearby site at Barnes-Jewish Hospital where we were in and out in 30 minutes with hardly any wait and a 15 minute cooling off period after the shot. I expect that sometime in April we will be back to normal with regular social interaction and attendance at sports facilities. Already, our art museum and zoo are open to the public. The infection rate in St. Louis is dropping dramatically and our hospitals have never been overloaded. I am looking forward to heading north to Charlevoix in a couple of months. If my memory is correct – a chancy thing – you used to go to northern Michigan. Thanks for keeping us informed.
    Charlie Valier