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Legislator Fernando Cheung


Legislator Fernando Cheung

Dear Poi Lam,
This is probably the worst Chinese New Year Hong Kong has ever experienced. The anti-Extradition bill movement has left more than 7 thousand Hong Kong people arrested, over one thousand people charged, mostly with participating in riots or illegal assemblies, hundreds injured and God knows how many deaths. As we enter the Year of the Rat with uncertainties, Hong Kong is now confronted with the Wuhan pneumonia epidemic.
In tackling the social discontent since June last year, Carrie Lam chose to use the police to suppress the opposition. The movement soon turned violent and left the society completely torn apart. In tacking the epidemic, she chose to please Beijing instead of using her power to protect the lives of Hong Kong people. Her insistence on not stopping mainlanders from entering Hong Kong is beyond reason.
Professor Gabriel Leung, dean of medicine at the Hong Kong University and a health adviser to Carrie Lam’s government, said on the 26th that “substantial, draconian measures limiting population mobility should be taken immediately.” Dr. Ho Pak-Leung, a leading microbiologist at the University of Hong Kong, said “all visitors from the mainland should be barred,” in response to Lam’s announcement of a basket of measures on the 28th.  Sixteen hours prior to Lam’s announcement; the Medical School of the Chinese University of Hong Kong also released a press statement, asking the government to stop all mainlanders from entering Hong Kong. The statement indicates that the health and safety of the public cannot be compromised, despite the possible negative social and economic consequences the closure of the border may bring.
Needless to say, the pan-democratic legislators have all urged the government to close the border. But to such unanimous call for closing the border to mainlanders, Carrie Lam responded by saying, “Hong Kong residents account for about 70% of the border traffic in recent days. Are we not allowing Hong Kong residents to return to Hong Kong?” But everyone knows that the measure refers to stopping mainlanders from entering Hong Kong. No one has ever suggested barring Hong Kong residents from coming back. But even Hong Kong residents should go through infectious disease control and that they should be tracked and monitored if they have visited Hubei within the last 14 days despite whether they show any symptoms or not. Carrie Lam has to know that. The only reason she twisted the meaning of the unanimous recommendation was to evade it.
Instead of closing the border to mainlanders, Carrie Lam offered to close down six of the entry ports, including the Express Rail in West Kowloon in two days. But netizens were quick to point out that the volume of mainlanders entering through those 6 ports represents only 11% of all mainland visitors. And even when the two-way tourist visas are stopped, mainlanders can easily come in via other types of visas, such as commercial and family visitation visas. Thus the effects of her measures in curtailing the most dangerous population, those mainlanders who want to come to Hong Kong to seek medical treatments, from entering Hong Kong are bound to fail.
Several medical staff unions have issued clear warnings to the government that if the borders are not closed, they will call a strike.  A strike by medical personnel is no doubt disastrous amidst an epidemic. And no responsible medical professional should engage in a strike when they are most needed. But Carrie Lam gave them a very good reason to do just that by refusing to close the border.
I honestly don’t think any medical professionals would want to escape from their duties even under such aversive circumstances. But we all know that the public health system is already under extreme stress and staff are overworked. Our medical staff are already stressed out for just serving the needs of Hong Kong residents. Some 5 million people left or escaped Wuhan before local residents were barred from leaving town.  Many have gone to Guangzhou and Shenzhen. It’s only reasonable to expect those who have symptoms would consider to come Hong Kong to receive treatments, given our high quality of care in comparison to that of the mainland. Nine out of ten confirmed cases in Hong Kong are non-residents. The only sensible thing to do is to cut off the influx of mainland visitors altogether, given the disease has already spread to the rest of China.
Dr. Yung, who represented more than 100 staff at a hospital, sent an open email entitled “Don’t use our lives as political chips to pay for government’s incompetence” to the administration of the Hospital Authority. He said frontline medical staff don’t want to go on strike.  But the threat to strike was to pressure the government to act decisively to stop all mainlanders from entering Hong Kong. Dr. Yung said medical staff are also deeply offended by Carrie Lam’s earlier remarks of criticizing them as being radical and irresponsible.
In the meantime, the number of confirmed Wuhan pneumonia cases has reached beyond 9,000.  Japan and the United States have sent chartered flights to Wuhan to help their citizens retreat. Many airlines have decided to stop all China flights. Vietnam and Taiwan have altogether banned mainland visitors from entering their countries. I’m sure other countries will follow suit as the epidemic continues to grow in China. Hong Kong is losing valuable time to take actions to prevent the epidemic from becoming localized. But Carrie Lam has chosen to ignore the social consensus yet one more time, just like she refused to establish an independent inquiry to investigate the anti-extradition bill movement and police brutality.
The results of her stubbornness could be disastrous. Many lives could be lost if we don’t act soon. Last time, we lost 299 lives to SARS. The Wuhan pneumonia has proven to be more contagious than SARS. I’m sure Carrie Lam and her administration would continue to boast how much they have done to contain the outbreak. But for a government who has a reserve of more than 3,000 billion dollars and yet unable to make sure a sufficient and affordable supply of face masks to its people in an epidemic, what can we expect from it? In contrast, Singaporean government has announced that it will distribute masks to all Singaporean households.
Our medical staff will go on strike on Feb 3rd, Monday, if Carrie Lam does not close the border to mainlanders. To save face for the Central or to save lives for Hong Kong people, that is the real question for Carrie Lam.
Let’s hope our government will act sensibly.
Yours truly,

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