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News & Blog > Blogs: "Perspectives, Provocations & Initiatives" > Quick Lessons from Coronavirus Spread in Hong Kong

Quick Lessons from Coronavirus Spread in Hong Kong

With the WHO declaring novel Coronavirus to be a global public health emergency, Hei Tung Tiffany Chan (MA Dev 12) shares her thoughts on the complexity of public health issues.
5 Feb 2020
Written by Tiffany Chan
China | Hong Kong SAR (China)
Blogs: "Perspectives, Provocations & Initiatives"
Image: AlexChirkin [CC0]
Image: AlexChirkin [CC0]
Several cases of pneumonia have been reported in Wuhan, Hubei province in China since early December 2019. According to the study published in Lancet just last week, these patients made a living or lived near the local Huanan seafood wholesale market, where some live animals were also sold. Severe acute respiratory infection was found alongside complications. In early January 2020, the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention identified and named coronavirus.

Watch this video from the WHO for more information on what the novel coronavirus is:
It is bizarre to watch the WHO praising the Chinese government’s responsive actions towards the outbreak. Particularly if you note that the Chinese government delayed sharing information for a month. It was only in early January that the government started to share information with other countries.  The city mayor of Wuhan was interviewed and on being questioned why he did not admit to the severity of the outbreak, he admitted that he needed to wait for higher level of authorisation before announcement.

In early January, 8 individuals raised their concerns via the internet about the outbreak, but then they were arrested for spreading rumours. These 8 whistleblowers are medical professionals and they were put on trial. Eventually they were all released, and the court summoned the police for their wrongs. The Financial Times has pointed out the virus has revealed the flaws and loopholes of the Chinese system. Transparency is an especially worrying issue when it comes to disease control.

Lack of trust has also added fuel to the severity of outbreak. In Hong Kong, after several months of protest, the people’s disappointment towards the government is strong, as seen in the district council election last November. The anxiety over coronavirus has brought the whole city into panic buying surgical masks and alcohol hand gel – both locally and overseas. Frustration reached its peak when the crisis crossed with the Chinese New Year long holiday. The Hong Kong government has been timid in making moves, especially upon the border issue with China. However, the public has been calling for the government to close the Chinese borders, they want to stop the increase of human flow from the affected areas and therefore decrease the possibility of a coronavirus outbreak in Hong Kong.

On the other hand, Taiwan, has always been denied from participating in international organisations including the WHO. The "One China" principle potentially puts the island at risk. Virus knows no borders, and Taiwan could be a blind spot for the outbreak.

The coronavirus outbreak shows us that public health issues are never simply health problems, they are complex issues that cover social, cultural and political problems wherever they occur.

I am from the generation of 2003 SARS. I was 11 by then and I vividly remember the time we suddenly stop going to school for safety reasons and since then our homes are always stocked with surgical face masks. The outbreak seems not dying down soon, and it is going to be a long winter and spring. According to Prof Yuen Kwok-yung, expert on SARS and respiratory diseases, the virus can only die out when the temperature is high. We all hope for an end to coronavirus, but more importantly, we need to learn the lessons from this outbreak, do things right in the future, and save lives.

Nevertheless, according to the Chinese calendar, this Year of Rat – I am wishing you all a successful and healthy year. May peace be with all of you.

You might also be interested in reading this IDS post asking 'Where is the social science in the Coronavirus response?'

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