The government urges calm. But the public response points to dwindling trust after conflicting messaging. A rare directive from Chinese president Xi Jinping urging officials to take “all necessary steps” to contain the virus raised the prospect of more stringent measures.
It is an extraordinary turn for a city that had reported few infections or deaths until early February. For the first two years of the pandemic, restrictions were tough.
Social distancing measures and mask-wearing became the norm and authorities cut Hong Kong off from the world by imposing hotel quarantine requirements for up to three weeks for arrivals who tested negative.
Yet we never endured the type of lockdowns seen in Europe or North America. Millions died overseas but in Hong Kong, we were safe.
For immunocompromised people like me, this mattered. When the first reports of a mystery illness emerged from Wuhan in 2020, I sought refuge in London on the advice of my haematologist.
Three months later, when COVID-19 was raging in Europe and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson ruled out imposing any restrictions, things changed. “Go as soon as you can,” my doctor said. “Things will pick up quickly in the UK in the next few days. HK will be safer.”
Now, while the UK’s vaccination campaign has paid off, authorities here report tens of thousands of cases every day. Deaths are rising fast, owing to the scandalously low vaccination rates among the elderly.