"But how can you live and have no story to tell?" Fyodor Dostoevsky
"Banging up vaccinated people in camps doesn't help sell the message that vaccines work"
Carrie Lam and her team fighting Covid appear to have abandoned any semblance of logic. Is confused and shallow thinking dogging their Covid strategy? There are several rather serious problems here.
Forcing 370,000 domestic helpers to undergo Covid tests while imposing no similar requirements on their employers defies logic. There are other significant gaps. For one thing, the Covid test is only valid at that moment of taking. After that, a helper heads home to interact with people in their households. Without testing the household members to ensure they are not the silent carriers, what is the point of this exercise?
What's more, with household members going out and about daily, are they not more likely to have Covid contacts?
In truth, I can only conclude the initiative is a knee jerk 'look we are doing something' reaction. Because, of course, domestic helpers are a vulnerable group that the government can push into testing without much political blowback.
Try to impose these requirements on supermarket tellers or civil servants — both sectors that interact with the public — and you can expect a swift unhappy reaction.
Adding to the disquiet are scenes of domestic helpers spending their hard-earned day off lining up for hours at testing centres. And yes, the option to self-test is there. Yet, this raises a vast number of issues about the efficacy of the sample collection. Indeed, if the government wanted a robust testing regime, it would insist on all tests be done by professionals. This sloppy approach is indicative of a sham exercise designed more for the optics than effectiveness.
Also, did anyone think about the possibility of cross-infection in the huge queues. Now that tracing has established the transmission link is an Indian male, will the government be rushing to test them? No, of course not.
Be interesting to see how many positives come back. And then what? If you find 500 (or 5000) positives are we going to lock up everyone employing those helpers and other people in the same building? Has this been thought through?
Meanwhile, statements by officials that the testing aims at protecting the wider community don't pass the smell test. Likewise, the assertion 'we are seeking to protect the children.' If that's the case, why not order compulsory tests for teachers?
The sudden appearance of Ricky Chu, head of the Equal Opportunities Commission, asserting the policy is not discriminatory, did nothing to suppress the odour. In a strictly legal sense, Chu is correct. That's not the point.
This mass testing of one group has the unfortunate side effect of demonising them while failing to address the broader problem. Let's face it; the real challenge is a low rate of vaccinations.
For example, I hear that domestic helpers are reluctant to get the jab because of the after-effects, with two or three days of tiredness. Coupled with this, is that some employers are unwilling to give them sick leave, so why would domestic helpers come forward?
Encouraging people to get the vaccination is not helped by locking up vaccinated folks for 21 days. People are right to ask, "Even if I comply and cooperate, because a case pops up in my building, I'm still facing detention. What's the point?"
Even so, I'll give the government credit for having the vaccinations in place. The delivery at the front end is pretty slick. Plus, I'm sure none of this current imbroglio arises from animus. But, once again, a bit of Red Teaming would help identify the impact of intersecting policies. That way, the government could avoid embarrassing reversals of policy.
With the vaccination rate at only 14.5 per cent of the population, we need to up our game. Just for clarity, banging up vaccinated people in camps doesn't help sell the message that vaccines work.
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.