Rats, let's hope this is no publicity stunt!

Editorial | Mary Ma 21 May 2019

Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung set a truly ambitious target for himself not to spare a single rat as he launched a three-month campaign to eradicate the rodents to protect Hong Kong from an outbreak of the rat hepatitis E virus.

That could only be a slogan. But Cheung's statement did underscore the seriousness of the public health threat that these critters have brought about.

While it's most unlikely that the SAR will be able to get rid of all the rats over three months, it's essential to let the campaign continue long after the period.

So, will it last?

It's not the first time Hong Kong has embarked on a territory-wide campaign after the handover. Similar to the current one, each of the previous exercises was spearheaded by the SAR's second-in-command.

In 2003, then chief secretary Donald Tsang Yam-kuen was assigned the major task of cleaning up the city after the deadly SARS outbreak that killed more than 280 people - including a number of medics - winning himself the enviable title "Captain of Team Clean."

Six years later in 2009, then chief secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen became the "tree tzar," overseeing interdepartmental efforts to improve tree management, following the tragic death of a teenager crushed by a falling tree in Stanley.

Were both missions accomplished up to expectations? Your judgment is surely as good as mine.

While it's true that most places became cleaner immediately after the vigorous Team Clean campaign, the improvement failed to be sustained over time. Similarly, although the tree management exercise resulted in an office dedicated to inspecting and maintaining trees across Hong Kong, the achievement so far has been far from satisfactory.

Before us now is another chief secretary tasked with leading a territory-wide campaign to get rid of rodents to preempt a feared outbreak of a rat-borne disease in the city.

Cheung may have won admiration for setting for himself a noble mission of sparing no rat. The issue remains whether society would be disappointed again if this chief secretary allows the campaign to end in three months without assembling sufficient public support to let the efforts be sustained for three more months, then three more months, and so on.

Will Cheung be able to mobilize the community to do its part to help improve environmental hygiene at their own places in concert with the government?

As with his predecessors, it's definitely showtime for Cheung. The only last thing to wish for is the high-profile campaign to become little more than a show - as ironically demonstrated by the so-called Rat Elimination Alliance led by "The Queen of Rats" lawmaker Priscilla Leung Mei-fun.

The alliance invited an "expert" from Guangzhou to demonstrate how to bait rodents with barbecued pork and chicken in different areas known to be infested with rats.

The alliance should be certain that the expert would - and he actually did - catch some for media cameras since there're so many of the creatures out there. But will the rodent crisis be solved by a publicity stunt?

Ha ha, you tell me!

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