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"As the Chief Executive, Lam must accept responsibility."
The clouds of Covid need to clear, and Carrie Lam needs to step aside. Here's why.
During over two years of Covid, Hong Kong tallied 7,252 deaths (as of 27 March 2022). In recent weeks, a notable 7,039 deaths occurred during the so-called fifth wave (mostly Omicron) — 97% of the total.
The over 65's make up 96% of that number. The median age of the dead is 86 years old, with 4,998 of these people over 80.
Some 57% of the over 80s have received the first vaccination, and only 1.7% have received a third dose. The evidence is clear — had we vaccinated more of the elderly earlier, a good number could be still alive. After all, Hong Kong has a cumulative death toll on par with Canada.
Meanwhile, the mortality rate across the entire population is 0.63%. By comparison, the seasonal flu mortality rate is around 0.12%. The Covid situation continues to change, although, at present, it is thought that Covid has a substantially higher rate of mortality— possibly ten times or more.
This raw data says nothing of the suffering and loss visited on the people by this absence of adequate protection for the elderly. I've previously highlighted how confused thinking, coupled with a lack of resolve, led to inaction or half measures. As the Chief Executive, Lam must accept responsibility.
The elderly, already frail, would always be the most vulnerable. This situation is no different from the seasonal flu. Yet, we had two years to prepare with many warnings that this group would get hit hard — we saw what happened elsewhere, and the experts warned us.
And yet, through all this, Chief Executive Lam failed to recognise the risk and didn't act resolutely. Lulled into a false sense of success after an excellent start that kept Covid out of Hong Kong, did she grow complacent? Because as new variants arose, the need for flexibility, adjustments and re-configuring became evident.
Then, public confusion and frustration increased as muddled messaging set off panics. The basics of modern communication, consistent messages, appeared beyond the government. Whether by leaks or kiting prospective policies, we heard mass testing was coming, then it was not a priority, and today (28 March), Lam asserted it is still a possibility. Such flip-flopping erodes confidence, especially when the tarnished Lam is her own spokesperson.
At one point, we are told the science demands we undergo 21 days of quarantine on arrival, then it drops to 14 before seven is the number. Nobody has explained why. The list of changes goes on.
Two years into this crisis we are still witnessing civil servants failing to coordinate as people get fobbed off with "you need to approach this department or that department". The long-established civil service silos appear reinforced to bolster protection against criticism.
Conversely, is Lam capable of getting heads of departments to synchronise their work? It doesn't appear so. Then again, as a career civil servant, she is all about due process, an approach that works well in regular times but hampers change when a crisis hits.
You are probably wondering what I'd have done differently. I'd have pursued vaccinations for the elderly as the priority much earlier and given serious consideration to compulsory measures. There is a humanitarian case for such action.
In terms of managing the response, I'd 'Red Team' everything to find the flaws in proposals before adapting and moving on. I'd seek to devolve decision-making down the chain of command and appoint a spokesperson. I'd have fired at least one minister — no prizes for guessing who — and I'd reigned in the endless leaks.
I'd have kept the schools open. The relatively low risk posed to children and the real cost of keeping them home needed to be addressed. On that score, the ultimate impact of Covid and our response to it must be weighed including the mental stress, the increased alcoholism, reductions in fitness and being forced to give up a social life.
In such times of crisis, well organised and drilled entities will prevail, hence I'd be running stimulations, table-top sessions and exercises to test systems and people.
Lastly, I'd be getting some rest to focus on the big picture, considering the way forward to establish how we exit Covid to relaunch Hong Kong. Lam boasting about functioning on a few hours of sleep never gave me confidence. You can't defeat biology — tired people make poor decisions.
Lam's popularity is again waning fast. While her governance failures (remember this one) have undermined our international standing, the economy and the robust faith of the Hong Kong people. We are yet to emerge from Covid, so the repercussions of her time as CE have to wait for a full accounting.
The media is full of speculation — will Lam run for another term? Yet, when the topic comes up, all I hear from people is, "Please go!".
"Any soul with an ounce of compassion would applaud this help from the Mainland."
A respected boss once advised me, "Don't dip your pen in blood", after I'd fired off a robust and quick response to a counterpart who dared to question my integrity.
Wise advice. That is why I waited several days before penning this rant. Such was my anger and disgust; I thought the time might abate my bile. It hasn't.
So, here we go. As Hong Kong struggled with world record rates of Covid deaths, the Mainland has pulled out all the stops to support our struggling medical staff in an over-burdened system. They've made supplies available, built quarantine facilities in days, and sent medical teams here. The latest batch included doctors and nurses to care for the suffering old folks.
Our elderly are dying in droves. A perfect storm of cramped elderly homes, the unvaccinated, weak immune systems and a government that dropped the ball sent a scythe slashing through the old. Coffins are in short supply, as the crematoria work flat out while bodies pile up.
The call had gone out for help, and the Mainland responded. One nurse postponed her wedding to join the effort in Hong Kong; most left their families behind.
Then what happens when the matter comes up at the daily press conference? Given a chance, the first thing the reporter from Now TV asks is, "How may we complain against these mainland medical staff if they make a mistake?" Wow.
The question is not only dipped in blood, it oozes contempt and doesn't have a shred of gratitude. Thus, I can only surmise the reporter has something pathologically wrong with her to frame such an inquiry.
The reaction has been swift, with the reporter burning at the stake of public opinion. Her editor issued an apology. He suggested that the question did not represent Now TV's stance as he threw the lady under the bus. Calls for her termination abound. I wouldn't sanction that. Maybe a two-week stint on the wards watching an intubated granny struggling to breath is needed.
The Journalist Association resorted to their rote 'freedom of the press is under threat' by asserting the question is legitimate. Yes, in a strict sense. I'm sure the naysayers can construct a position around 'one-county/two systems' to stir up an altercation. Except it was made clear that these volunteers would work with local medical carers and come under the auspices of the Medical Council. Thus, existing mechanisms apply.
Anyway, whether the question is legitimate is a moot point because there is also the matter of context, timing and appropriateness. None of which appear to have entered the reporter's mind.
Any soul with an ounce of compassion would applaud this help from the Mainland. Especially when so many Hong Kong people abandoned their old folks into care as they moved overseas. Moreover, locals haven't been rushing to jobs in elderly homes.
A couple of years ago, howls of pain went up when the PLA turned out to clear typhoon debris so that roads could reopen. Given the protest, you'd think tanks were rolling down Pedder Street. It is approaching 25 years since the return to Chinese sovereignty. Has that fact has not penetrated the psyche of some?
The serious issue here is the inflated sense of superiority that runs through specific sectors of Hong Kong society—believing themselves better than the Mainlanders, their world-view shatters when such help is needed. Yet, for decades they've been drinking Mainland water, eating food from there, and enjoying prosperity because of China's rise.
A bit of humility, please.
Walter De Havilland was one of the last of the colonial coppers. He served 35 years in the Royal Hong Kong Police and Hong Kong Police Force. He's long retired.