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Unequal Hong Kong can’t live with Covid-19, unlike Singapore

August 25, 2021 GMT

I would like to respond to Cliff Buddle’s column, “Time for Hong Kong to emerge from its ever-shrinking bubble” ( August 21 ), which argued that Hong Kong should follow Singapore’s “live with the virus” strategy because “many countries now accept it is impossible to eliminate Covid-19″ and “Hong Kong’s status as an international city ... is at stake” if it continues to isolate itself from the rest of the world.

However, Hong Kong is not a monolithic society that consists of only international high-flyers. With a Gini coefficient of 0.54, Hong Kong is a much more unequal society than Singapore, whose number is a modest 0.35. That means a vast majority of Hongkongers cannot afford the kind of international travel that is viewed as an essential fact of life by the elites.

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The elites need to understand that the virus has an outsize impact on the low-income segment of society. What may be a mere inconvenience for the elites can mean the difference between life and death for the poor.

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The elites have benefited enormously from the pandemic as the value of their investment portfolios soared, fuelled by the easy money the government created to support the economy. It’s time for the rich to do their part and stick it out like everybody else.

Huan Liu, Sham Tseng

The zero-Covid policy has largely isolated Hong Kong from the misery of infection and death, with rates one-hundredth of those seen elsewhere in the world (“Coronavirus: Hong Kong’s ‘zero infection’ policy unsustainable, expert warns, urging elderly to get vaccinated”, August 22 ). But our economy has suffered, with social connections broken and many of our industries decimated. Where is our road map to the future, with Covid-19 endemic?

Economically, China is by far our largest trading partner and our largest supplier. We are dependent on China for water, food and power; we are socially and economically tied. But China has clearly stated that it will maintain its zero-Covid approach, and this looks likely to be the case for at least the next year.

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Zero-Covid economies like Hong Kong, Australia and New Zealand are victims of their own success: isolated from a recovering Europe and US, with vaccination rates too low to open up, forced to face an indefinite future of restrictions, vaccine refusal, waning vaccination immunity and anger over travel restrictions.

We are now faced with a hard choice. Hong Kong could push hard for vaccination levels to increase, open up our external borders to the world and dash any hopes of a two-way border with China. Or Hong Kong could focus on the border with China, suffering an economic hit as Asia’s world city remains closed to our international travellers.

We can’t have it both ways, and either approach could fail (seeing as whether people turn up to be vaccinated is their choice, the mainland’s border is its own, and none are entirely under Hong Kong government control).

The glimmer of hope is that vaccination levels continue to climb; consistently, another 1 per cent of our population are vaccinated every two to three days. Today, more than 74.5 per cent of Hongkongers aged 40-49 have already had their first doses, and there is no reason to think the other age groups won’t make the same decision.

Perhaps the decision will be taken out of the government’s hands in the end, by the vaccines. As immunity increases, it becomes increasingly difficult not to open up. Now more than ever, the fate of Hong Kong is in its people’s hands (and upper arms).

Mark Webb-Johnson, Sai Kung

This article originally appeared on the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the leading news media reporting on China and Asia. For more SCMP stories, please download our mobile app, follow us on Twitter, and like us on Facebook.

Copyright (c) 2021. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.