Stories like hers are becoming more common, understandably leaving people to question if politics is taking precedence over public protection. Chief Executive Lam has stated several times that the Hong Kong government’s priority is to open its border with mainland China and to do so, it will stick to its zero-Covid policy.
China’s state media has frequently hailed its management of Covid-19 as the world’s pandemic success story. When the virus first began to spread, its use of authoritarian control to lock millions inside their own homes for three months to prevent contagion was indeed effective. But even today, the country is experiencing more outbreaks including of the highly contagious Delta variant, most recently seen in the northeastern city of Dalian.
A research study published in Molecular Research looked at the impact of quarantine on the mental health of over 55,000 people in China during the pandemic. Unsurprisingly, the study found that people who experienced quarantine measures had a higher prevalence of moderate to severe levels of depression, anxiety, insomnia and acute stress. While the suicide rate in Hong Kong in 2020 declined from the year before, the sharp rise in the number of suicides among children under 15 and elderly women may have been due to mental-health issues during the pandemic, a University of Hong Kong study has found.
Meanwhile, the rest of the world is moving on, understanding that we must coexist with Covid-19 rather than attempt to eliminate it completely. The vaccinated may still worry about getting infected and then becoming too sick, especially if it has been over eight months since they received their second jab and have yet to get a booster. But for the most part, they are well protected. Consider the case of my son, who got infected, along with four of his roommates. All were vaccinated. Four of them were asymptomatic and one experienced only very mild symptoms. As my son put it, “it was nowhere near as bad as the flu.” Imagine if the world treated influenza in the same way that Hong Kong is treating Covid-19.
The mental anxiety inflicted on families whose children are studying abroad or who have elderly or ill family members living outside Hong Kong is becoming less tolerable. This is a hidden crisis caused not by the economic downturn or the coronavirus threat but inflicted on the community by policies that no longer make sense when it comes to managing the virus and that are already threatening Hong Kong’s status as Asia’s financial capital.
When I returned to San Francisco in August 2020, the US was in the midst of a turbulent presidential election and Covid-19 was taking a heavy toll in both cases and fatalities. New infections in the country were averaging around 7,000 per day. In San Francisco, the daily number of admitted patients was around 100, while Hong Kong’s had just peaked at about the same level but had fallen below that level. San Francisco had been one of the most pandemic-ready cities in the US, declaring a state of emergency even before a single case had made its shores. Once I got there, the situation in the Bay Area did not seem as bad as the media was portraying it. One week later, my 14-year-old daughter got on a plane in Hong Kong to join me and her siblings in California. Our life-changing decision was the right one.