"If you want to read a blog to get a sense of what is going on in Hong Kong these days or a blog that would tell you what life was like living in colonial Hong Kong, this blog, WALTER'S BLOG, fits the bill." Hong Kong Blog Review
"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!".
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.