It's time to bite the bullet

Editorial | Mary Ma 23 Mar 2020

It's imperative to shut down places where people socialize now that infection cases have been reported in popular hangouts.

Such draconian acts are not meant to penalize bar or restaurant owners but merely to protect the public before these places become hotbeds for new outbreaks of the novel coronavirus that continues to claim hundreds of lives around the world each day.

An Imperial College London report recently postulated a model of how the virus may hit Britain and the United States.

One of the alarming observations is that local outbreaks likely follow a pattern that they spike steeply before easing - only to spike again later.

The cycle would repeat until an effective vaccine was found which, according to scientists, would at least be 12 to 18 months from now.

Meanwhile, it is better to be safe than sorry.

Nightlife hub Lan Kwai Fong, for instance, was recently linked to a handful of cases in which the patients had been visiting gyms or having drinks there. As the SAR's medical spokesman Chuang Shuk-kwan has said, people take off their masks to chat as they drink and this can be dangerous.

Since some carriers are asymptomatic, they don't even know they are transmitting the disease to others as they socialize.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor is not short of alternatives to limit the spike. If she is afraid of officially asking people to stay home - even though our medics are already appealing with the slogan, "We stay at work for you; you stay at home for us" - she could at least follow British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's example in shutting down pubs, restaurants, gyms, etc.

Britons mostly support the shutdown, despite the fact that drinking in pubs is as culturally critical to them as is having dim sum in Chinese restaurants to Hongkongers.

It's the kind of sacrifice that people must learn to make. I believe the public will support it if the SAR administration can explain the need and assure affected workers that their jobs will be secure.

The British government's policy to reimburse employers 80 percent of the wages as long as they keep workers on payrolls is by no means standard, but it is a worthy reference.

Yesterday in Hong Kong, 44 more cases were confirmed in the past 24 hours, which was close to the record of 48 new cases set last Friday. Although an increase was expected due to the influx of Hongkongers returning from the United States, Britain and Europe, 15 of the 44 new cases were local without any recent history of overseas travel.

The impact of several local clusters has fast become apparent. For example, a few more people fell sick with the coronavirus after attending a wedding party in Discovery Bay.

California, Italy and Spain have ordered their nationals to stay home, with police questioning anyone on the street.

Besides the closure in Britain of venues where people socialize, some high street brands - including IKEA and John Lewis - have shut stores to distance people from each other, despite the huge economic costs.

Lam should not be afraid to follow suit even though such a move would be expensive to achieve.

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