Lam bets on quarantine-scare tactic

Editorial | Mary Ma 6 Feb 2020

The latest requirement for all travelers from the mainland - including Hongkongers returning to the SAR - to undergo quarantine for 14 days is the most draconian step yet taken by the government in response to the coronavirus epidemic that has escalated with an increase in local confirmed cases.

Although the measure - effective from Saturday - stops short of being a total shutdown in name, it effectively amounts to a total closure of the border with the mainland.

It may be too little too late for some who have been critical of Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor's slow response to this constantly evolving health crisis.

Nevertheless, the mandatory quarantine is another step in the same direction as that demanded by striking members of the Hospital Authority Employees Alliance.

As the crisis continues to escalate, it's all the more urgent for all health workers to return to their positions to fortify the defense line.

In hindsight, steps introduced at the border for the past week fell short of what was required, even though they were aimed at reducing the risk of a local community outbreak.

We have learnt from history that, in dealing with a contagious disease crisis, it is absolutely essential to be able to move ahead of the curve to prepare for any "what-if" scenario.

Comparisons are often drawn between Lam and her counterpart in Macau, saying the former Portuguese colony has been handling its own crisis better than Hong Kong.

But that's unfair, given that Hong Kong's population is more than 10 times the size of Macau's.

Be that as it may, Hong Kong's de-facto lockdown from the mainland is not going to regain any popular support for Lam.

A number of questions remained unanswered following yesterday's press conference.

Hong Kong is totally dependent on the mainland for all kinds of supplies, including food. How will the supply lines be maintained when everyone coming here from the mainland will have to be quarantined for 14 days during which they cannot leave the SAR?

Who will be transporting the food supplies? Will drivers be required to stay in the SAR for mandatory quarantine? In theory, they should - but that is hardly practical.

Is it possible, then, to overcome this with some kind of special arrangement at the border whereby supplies from the mainland are received by separate teams on the Hong Kong side?

There is also the outstanding uncertainty of where returning Hong Kong residents will be quarantined - at home or in designated quarantine centers?

My fear is that the government will not be able to find sufficient facilities to accommodate everyone if those returning citizens are not allowed to stay at home during the quarantine period.

As a reporter asked at the press conference, is it going to be one of the Disney hotels?

And local communities should think twice about opposing plans to turn some district facilities into temporary isolation centers if those facilities are reasonably distant from the nearest homes.

Heritage Lodge in Lai Chi Kok, for example, is separated from Mei Foo residents by two major roads and a strip of uninhabited land.

Fears that using the lodge for isolation could become a threat are groundless.

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