Covid-19: Why Hong Kong’s ‘third wave’ is a warning

Covid-19: Why Hong Kong’s ‘third wave’ is a warning

Covid-19: Why Hong Kong’s ‘third wave’ is a warning

A woman wears a surgical mask following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Hong Kong, China July 17, 2020Picture copyright
Reuters

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Infections reached a report excessive – 149 instances – on Thursday

Till not too long ago, Hong Kong was thought of a poster youngster in its dealing with of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Regardless of sharing a border with mainland China, the place the primary instances had been reported, Hong Kong stored its an infection numbers down and was capable of keep away from the intense lockdown measures launched in components of China, Europe and the US.

However now, it has been hit by not even a second, however a 3rd, wave of infections. The federal government has warned its hospital system may face collapse, and it is simply had a report excessive variety of new infections in a day.

What went improper, and what classes are there for nations juggling each the pandemic, and the financial ache attributable to lockdown?

Quarantine exemptions and ‘loopholes’

Hong Kong had its first Covid-19 instances in late January, resulting in widespread concern and panic shopping for, however an infection numbers remained comparatively low and the unfold was managed fairly rapidly.

It skilled what grew to become often called its “second wave” in March, after abroad college students and residents began returning to the territory, resulting in a spike in imported infections.

In consequence, Hong Kong launched strict border controls, banning all non-residents from getting into its borders from abroad, and everybody who returned was required to bear a Covid-19 take a look at and 14-day quarantine.

It even used digital bracelets to trace new arrivals and ensure they stayed at dwelling.

That, mixed with the widespread use of masks and social distancing measures, labored – Hong Kong went for weeks and not using a domestically transmitted case, and life appeared to be heading again to regular.

So how did the “third wave” – that has led to greater than 100 new instances for 9 days in a row – arrive?

  • Hong Kong on verge of ‘large-scale’ outbreak

“It is fairly disappointing and irritating as a result of Hong Kong had actually bought issues very a lot underneath management,” says Malik Peiris, Chair of Virology on the College of Hong Kong.

He believes there have been two flaws within the system.

First, many returnees opted to quarantine for 14 days at dwelling – an association that is frequent in lots of nations together with the UK – quite than in quarantine camps.

“There’s a weak point there as a result of different folks within the dwelling aren’t underneath any type of restriction, and can nonetheless be coming and going,” says Prof Peiris.

Nonetheless, he believes the extra significant issue got here from the federal government’s determination to exempt a number of teams of individuals from testing and quarantine after they entered Hong Kong.

Hong Kong had exempted about 200,000 folks, together with seafarers, aircrew and executives of corporations listed on the inventory alternate, from quarantine.

It stated the exceptions had been wanted to make sure regular each day operations continued in Hong Kong, or as a result of their journey was essential to town’s financial growth.

As a global metropolis and buying and selling port, Hong Kong has a excessive variety of air hyperlinks, and lots of ships change crews there. The territory additionally is determined by imports from mainland China and elsewhere for meals and important items.

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Media captionBBC Actuality Examine explains what “extra deaths” reveal about Covid-19

Joseph Tsang, an infectious illnesses specialist and physician, describes the exemptions as a big “loophole” that elevated the danger of an infection, significantly from seafarers and air crew who additionally visited vacationer spots and used public transport.

The federal government initially stated that the quarantine exemptions had been to not blame, however later admitted there was proof that the exemptions had been behind the newest outbreak.

They’ve now tightened guidelines for air and sea crews – however it may be troublesome to implement. There was alarm earlier this week when a international pilot was reportedly noticed sightseeing whereas awaiting Covid-19 take a look at outcomes.

And balancing public well being, sensible considerations and the economic system could be onerous – a union representing pilots at FedEx has requested the corporate to cease flights to Hong Kong as a result of it says the stricter Covid-19 measures, together with obligatory hospital stays for pilots who take a look at constructive, create “unacceptable circumstances for pilots”.

Benjamin Cowling, a professor of epidemiology on the College of Hong Kong, says Hong Kong’s expertise with quarantine issues may additionally occur in different nations.

“Within the UK, you even have a 14-day quarantine at dwelling, so you’d have the identical potential subject with leakage.”

In the meantime, New Zealand and Australia have a compulsory lodge quarantine coverage, which is “a very good idea… though there’s the problem of who pays for it”, he provides.

Like Hong Kong, the UK additionally exempts sure travellers from border guidelines, together with drivers of products automobiles, seafarers and aircrew.

Social distancing measures had been lifted

Hong Kong’s quarantine exemptions have been round for months, however the third wave did not hit till July.

Prof Peiris believes that is due to a second essential issue – social distancing measures had been considerably rolled again in June.

“So long as social distancing measures had been in place the system may cope – however as soon as measures had been relaxed” the imported infections unfold quickly, he says. “It is a lesson for everyone.”

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Reuters

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The federal government has now banned gatherings of greater than two folks – and briefly banned all dine-in companies

Dr Tsang remembers that by late June the federal government had allowed public gatherings of as much as 50 folks, whereas there have been celebrations for Fathers’ Day and Hong Kong’s handover anniversary.

“Many voters had been fatigued after months of social distancing, so when the federal government stated issues appeared tremendous and relaxed restrictions, they began assembly with family and friends.

“I feel it is very unlucky – many elements mixed on the similar time.”

Nonetheless, Prof Peiris stresses that Hong Kongers had been “extraordinarily compliant” with social distancing and hygiene measures throughout within the first and second waves – “the truth is, they had been even a step forward of presidency directions, sporting face masks earlier than they had been obligatory.”

He believes the reintroduction of social distancing measures now are already having an impact, and hopes that Hong Kong shall be again to shut to zero native infections inside 4 to 6 weeks.

At that time, he provides, the problem shall be to cease imported infections – significantly as soon as social distancing measures are lifted.

It is a problem different nations can even face as soon as they’re profitable in containing the virus inside their borders, as a result of “whenever you get to low ranges of transmission inside your inhabitants, having unregulated introductions from exterior can result in catastrophe.”

Did the pro-democracy protests unfold the virus?

Lots of Hong Kong’s pandemic struggles will apply to different cities, however the territory has additionally skilled one other disaster – a political one – over the previous 12 months.

On 1 July, 1000’s of individuals took half in a pro-democracy rally, regardless of the march being banned by authorities who stated it broke social distancing tips. A whole lot of 1000’s additionally voted in opposition primaries in mid-July, regardless of the federal government warning that the primaries may breach a brand new safety legislation.

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Reuters

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Hundreds marched in Hong Kong on the anniversary of its handover, 1 July

Since then, Chinese language state media have blamed each occasions for triggering the third wave of infections, whereas one politician referred to as it “completely irresponsible behaviour”.

Nonetheless, well being consultants say there is no such thing as a proof of them inflicting the spike in infections.

Prof Cowling says scientists “are capable of hyperlink collectively instances to determine chains of transmission, and there aren’t any clusters attributed to these occasions,” whereas Prof Peiris argues that the occasions “might have aggravated issues barely, however I do not assume it was a serious determinant by hook or by crook”.

In the meantime, Dr Tsang says analysis has proven that “the pressure of coronavirus within the third wave is completely different from these in earlier waves” – particularly, it has sort of mutation seen in aircrew and seafarers from the Philippines and Kazakhstan, so he believes the pressure was imported.

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Media captionStephen McDonell explains what the legislation means, and what folks in Hong Kong assume

There have been comparable discussions all over the world – significantly in gentle of anti-racism protests sparked by the loss of life of George Floyd – over whether or not demonstrations can result in a spike in infections, with some consultants suggesting that out of doors occasions the place contributors put on masks and take precautions may very well be decrease danger than initially anticipated.

Might the outbreak have an effect on Hong Kong’s elections?

There’s widespread hypothesis that Hong Kong’s authorities may postpone September’s elections to Hong Kong’s parliament – the Legislative Council – citing the spike in infections.

A number of native media reviews, quoting nameless sources, say the federal government is ready to postpone elections by a 12 months.

Opposition politicians have accused the federal government of utilizing the pandemic as an excuse to delay elections, particularly because the opposition had carried out strongly in native elections late final 12 months.

Nonetheless the transfer has been welcomed by some, together with former Legislative Council president Jasper Tsang, who instructed native media: “The federal government will not be capable of absolve itself of blame if polling stations flip into hotbeds for spreading the virus.

“It is also practically inconceivable for candidates to canvass votes given the social distancing guidelines.”

Prof Cowling says that social distancing measures reintroduced by the federal government have already stopped case numbers from accelerating over the previous week.

“I am unsure it’s a necessity to delay the elections – definitely not for a 12 months. You might think about delaying them for 2 weeks or a month, as a result of by then we would virtually definitely have [local infection] numbers again all the way down to zero.”

He provides that there are lots of methods to make elections safer, together with growing the variety of polling stations and workers to cut back wait occasions, guaranteeing polling stations are well-ventilated, and testing all polling station workers two days earlier than the election.

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EPA

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Singapore adopted further security measures for its normal elections

Governments have taken very completely different approaches to this – at the very least 68 nations or territories postponed elections resulting from Covid-19, whereas 49 locations held elections as deliberate, says the Worldwide Institute for Democracy and Electoral Help.

Singapore held its normal elections earlier this month – and had its highest turnout lately, says Eugene Tan, a legislation professor and political commentator at Singapore Administration College.

“There’s by no means a very good time for an election throughout a pandemic,” he says, however the vote went forward with a number of security measures in place and “demonstrates that it’s doable to guard public well being whilst folks go about exercising their democratic proper to vote.”

Nonetheless, he believes that making a call on whether or not to proceed with elections is a troublesome judgement name for governments, significantly if public belief is low.

“In the event you delay elections you may be accused of ready for a extra beneficial time [for the government] – however in the event you go forward you may be accused of enjoying quick and free with folks’s lives. The worst factor can be to have an election, after which have a spike within the variety of instances.”

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Media captionTea, medicine and conflict: Hong Kong’s British historical past defined

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