June 4 takes on a distance meaning

Editorial | Mary Ma 2 Jun 2020

Will the ban on group gatherings to prevent the spread of the pandemic be extended after it is due to expire on June 4 - an emotive date memorialized in Hong Kong every year?

Eyebrows were raised when the restriction was extended until that date, with many questioning openly or privately if it was too much of a coincidence.

The skepticism was legitimate in light of the tension that has been rising quickly since Beijing revealed its hardline policy on Hong Kong.

But perhaps it was a coincidence, given that the ban has been extended in weekly units.

I have little doubt that the administration will extend the ban again.

That's because, if the restriction were lifted immediately after midnight on June 4, it would only deepen suspicions in a population already highly skeptical of the police and government and would be hard to justify.

But if extended, it will likely conform with the weekly norm.

The recent confirmed local cases could not have been more timely for the government. Although experts still do not know how a handful of people from a Shek Lei housing estate and a cargo-processing center were infected with the coronavirus, the emergence of those cases has given Health Secretary Sophia Chan Siu-chee a good reason to further extend the ban on gatherings of more than eight people.

That being said, scientists have always been quick to remind us that the virus that was first reported in Wuhan will not leave us suddenly like the SARS outbreak in 2003.

The emergence of clusters of cases is a new normal that we have to live with.

To nobody's surprise, police objected to an application by the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China to organize the annual candlelight vigil in Victoria Park in memory of those killed in the Tiananmen Square military crackdown in 1989, citing the event as a major threat to public health.

Would the police have permitted the vigil to go ahead if the gathering ban expired on June 3 instead of June 4? That is an interesting question that puts the matter in a totally different setting.

I'd guess there would have been a big chance of police allowing it to go ahead since permission had been given over many years. It would have been difficult to explain why - if not for the pandemic - it should not go ahead.

After all, Beijing should not feel strongly about the event as it has seen this happening over more than two decades and is used to hearing speakers calling for an end to one-party dictatorship.

Of course, the imminent legislation on Hong Kong's national security law might shed a different light on the matter, pending details of the law which will be detailed in the next few weeks.

Hong Kong will see an unusual June 4 vigil this Thursday evening. Some may respond to a call to light a candle in a window, while others will go to Victoria Park on their own initiative to mark the event.

Remember to practice social distancing.

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