"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
"Meditate, switch off the 24-hour news cycle, WhatsApp and stop reading this blog."
In 2012, The Economist magazine trumpeted Hong Kong as the 'best city' globally. Our officials didn't hesitate to quote such surveys as proof of the success of the 1997 return to Chinese sovereignty. Yet, these days those officials avert their eyes as survey after survey documents Hong Kong's slip in the standings. Last year, The Economist rated Hong Kong 49th, albeit under different criteria.
The latest survey from ECA International, published on Tuesday, ranked Hong Kong 77th out of more than 490 cities worldwide, down 19 places from last year.
Atop that bad news, we can't deny the mood here has taken a distinct turn for the worse in the past weeks, as Omicron ripped through the community. Along the way, the government faltered on many fronts; care capacity, emergency planning and public messaging are a few. These are matters I've endlessly mulled over in previous blogs.
One section of the community is paying a terrible price; the unvaccinated old folks are dying in record numbers. Blinded and saddled by a misconstrued adherence to personal choice, the government didn’t impose compulsory vaccinations on the elderly. Philosophers will argue this one for years, but for me this failure to act amounts to weakness of thought and resolve.
Depending on how you present the data on death, we are currently top of the league. Although, as the chart below indicates, we remain in a better position on cumulative deaths.
Some people are voting with their feet in the highest exodus seen in the last 60 years. David Webb provides useful graphs (here) showing that the net departures the previous month hit 71,354. That accords with the evidence I'm seeing of young families opting to leave. Most of these folks are professionals in the middle to senior positions.
The few I've spoken to cite confusing government policies — a flip-flopping approach with no clear exit strategy.
Hence, it is easy to become despondent in this endless round of negative news as you drift into talk that this is the end for our mighty city. However, the problem with this 'flaming dumpster' rhetoric is that it seeds further despair and blocks context.
But then again, I remember in 2003, as SARS took hold, similar sentiments prevailed. ‘Hong Kong is finished,’ filled the airwaves, the press and our thoughts. Likewise, in 2019 the future looked bleak as mobs ran wild, smashing up our infrastructure, murdering innocents and threatening a sustained campaign of terror.
Yet, this place is uniquely robust at the risk of sounding complacent — and I am not. We've shown an unparalleled ability to bounce back. I'm confident that people here will triumph in the face of Covid.
The current food buying panic and other reactions to clumsy official statements must be seen in context. We all love a conspiracy theory as we engage in our daily discourse about why certain things are happening. These ideas give us a sense of being clever, having a unique insight as we ruminate over the twists and turns of life.
Psychologists have long known that the human brain comes infected with motivated reasoning, which directs an argument towards a favoured conclusion. Allied to that are evaluations that find fault with evidence that disproves our selected positions, while giving a free pass to evidence that supports it.
Thus, when Sophia Chan, the hapless Secretary for Health and Welfare, utters, "A lockdown is not off the table," the suspicious mind read that as 'lockdown tomorrow'.
That's why I'd like to see a little more calmness and rationality. I can see a gradual acknowledgement from government officials that a complete lockdown will not be workable. Instead, a more rational process of community screening, self-isolation for mild cases and quarantine for severe infections are taking shape.
I'm sure the next few weeks will be tough as Covid reaches a crescendo. Everyday life will face disruptions as transport links falter, interrupted services, and we enter a semi-lock down.
Long term, none of these challenges changes Hong Kong's fundamental strengths. Our geographical position, robust legal system, superb workforce, massive reserves and low crime rate, for starters. Perhaps most important is Hong Kong's role in the Chinese economy. None of that has changed.
In 2000, Sheena Iyengar and Mark Lepper discovered the freedom paradox. That the more choices we have, the more anxious we get. Choices complicate decision-making, raise expectations and usually lead to unsatisfying outcomes.
Ever been disappointed at a dream destination or reaching a desired outcome? We all face choices in the immediate term, all I’d suggest is don’t overreact and rush. How about going with the flow for the time being? I invite you to consider ‘Peace comes from within,’ notes the Buddha. So meditate, switch off the 24-hour news cycle, WhatsApp and stop reading this blog.
Hong Kong will surely emerge from the Covid maelstrom different, an evolved place, ready to move on. We will take flight again.
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.