"But how can you live and have no story to tell?" Fyodor Dostoevsky
"I've given up trying to comprehend the adopted approach to Covid, given that we've done more twists and turns than a faulty supermarket trolley."
Just as Hong Kong was coming to terms with the idea of mass testing, the government let slip that a lockdown is possible. Either Sophia Chan, the Secretary of Health and Welfare, misspoke yesterday, or this is another attempt to kite an idea to watch the public reaction.
They didn't need to wait very long if it was the latter. The supermarkets were soon overwhelmed with panic buying, while lines formed outside banks as people withdrew cash. Simultaneously, pharmacies ran out of medicines.
Our Dear Leader issued a hasty seven-minute video calling for calm in response. But, because any utterance by Lam arouses deep suspicion, this triggered another spasm. Helping all this along came the usual fake news on WhatsApp, including that the supermarkets would close soon.
Then this morning, we are greeted by a Hong Kong Standard headline, "10-Day Lockdown From March 17." Pause, deep breathing. On reading the entire story, the headline is disingenuous. Unnamed sources get cited as saying the government 'may' impose a lockdown; yet, this is not a mainland style confined to home approach. It will be more like the Western approach, with people allowed out to shop and for medical appointments.
Of course, such detail is lost in the broader community, who are already spooked by the official constant drip-feed of statements. Some people have had enough. They are voting with their feet to leave Hong Kong either until this is over or permanently.
Families with young children feel compelled to go, given that the government policies have seen children, including infants, separated from mothers. The data points to upward of 70,000 leaving in the last four weeks.
The Irish Consul General acknowledged the departures in a widely circulated message. He stated, "But I can confirm that our Consulate has never experienced this level of demand for consular services for those wishing to leave Hong Kong at present. However, I'm disappointed that this is being labelled in some quarters as an "expat exodus". These are Hong Kong residents of all nationalities making an unenviable and deeply traumatising choice to leave their homes, their jobs, their friends and family!"
I agree with his assessment. I've seen evidence that both local and Expat families, who can afford it, are taking steps to get their children away. And who can blame them? I recall sending my kids to the UK during SARS because my work meant I covered the Prince of Wales hospital. I didn't want to expose them to that risk.
I've heard commentators suggest that these 'leaks' and kiting of policies in the media are an attempt to soften up the public for much harsher restrictions to come. The thinking is that community testing will take at least three weeks; hence the lockdown will need to cover that period to have the desired impact. The argument goes that we are being tested and primed in this 'sidling of disingenuousness'.
Who knows the truth? I've given up trying to comprehend the adopted approach to Covid, given that we've done more twists and turns than a faulty supermarket trolley.
I surmise that the panic which kicked off yesterday will continue. So watch out for the fake stories, and remember we've been here before. SARS provoked similar issues, and when Covid kicked off two years, we saw the same hysteria. Weeks later the landfill was full of wasted food.
However, I do wish I'd bought shares in toilet paper companies because I'd be wiping up the rewards now.
(The Hong Kong Standard is now saying a nine-day lockdown is coming. Make your mind up 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.