Hong Kong overcomes epidemic with confidence
John Leung

Editor's note: Decision Makers is a global platform for decision makers to share their insights on events shaping today's world. John Leung is the director of the Office of the Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China in Beijing. The article reflects the author's opinions and not necessarily the views of CGTN.

The world has been in the grip of the COVID-19 epidemic for over two years. Until the end of 2021, Hong Kong had successfully overcome four waves of it.  While the epidemic dealt a severe blow to Hong Kong's economy which contracted by 6.1 percent in 2020, it rebounded visibly by 6.4 percent in 2021.  However, since the onset of the fifth wave in late December 2021, anti-epidemic efforts have been made much more arduous due to the emergence of the highly transmissible Omicron variant. Up to April 17, 2022, more than 1.19 million people out of a total population of 7.4 million have contracted the virus under the current wave, involving over 8,900 deaths.

During the peak of this wave, the crisis had outgrown Hong Kong's existing anti-epidemic capacities. The central government has provided the government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) with staunch and timely support in the battle against the virus. Such support came on all fronts, including, among others:

First, with the central government's support, six community isolation facilities have been constructed and handed over to Hong Kong to enhance its capacity to handle the epidemic by providing 20,000 beds in total. Three more community isolation facilities being under construction will provide another 30,000 beds upon completion.

Second, several medical advisories and support teams from the Chinese mainland (including experts in epidemiology, critical care medicine and Chinese medicine, etc.) arrived in Hong Kong in batches to provide advice on various aspects of tackling the epidemic and collaborate with Hong Kong's Hospital Authority to provide treatment for COVID-19 patients.

Last but not least, Hong Kong has been working closely with Guangdong and Shenzhen authorities to improve the arrangements of land transport, water transport and railway transport so as to ensure stable supplies of goods to Hong Kong.

The number of COVID-19 cases has shown a gradual downward trend after reaching its peak in early March. The daily case count dropped to under 1,000 on April 15. Against this background, and after considering the city's social and economic needs as well as balancing public health considerations, the HKSAR government announced adjustments to the current control measures. For example, local schools were allowed to resume classes on April 19. Staff, teachers and students will be required to take COVID-19 rapid antigen tests daily and can only go into the school if the test result is negative. The Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education Examination, a key public examination, will commence on April 22 as scheduled. Besides, the first-phase relaxation of social distancing measures will be rolled out on April 21 as planned. Among other things, restaurants' dine-in service hours will be extended to 10 p.m. and the maximum number of people per table will be increased from two to four. Sports arenas, fitness centers, cinemas, beauty parlors, religious premises, etc. may re-open without exceeding 50 percent of the venue's capacity.



The HKSAR government will continue our fight against the virus by implementing the strategy of reducing critical cases, deaths and infections. In particular, we have gone all out to boost the vaccination rates of the elderly and children to protect them from the virus. Hong Kong will spare no effort in the ongoing battle so as to formulate more targeted anti-epidemic measures in the future.

Over the past two years or so, the HKSAR government has spent over HK$600 billion to fight the epidemic, stabilize the economy and maintain public confidence. It is a significant sum, equivalent to about 20 percent of GDP. The strategy is to put in an all-out effort to win the fight against the epidemic, while at the same time relieving the immediate pressure on the economy and setting the stage for its post-epidemic revival.

Supporting small and medium enterprises (SMEs), which account for 98 percent of enterprises in Hong Kong and employ 45 percent of the private sector workforce, is the key to preserving the vitality and resilience of the economy, and more importantly employment. To this end, we have taken a multi-pronged approach. Specific measures rolled out earlier this year include alleviating operational costs by reducing taxes and fees; supporting cash flow by enhancing the SME Financing Guarantee Scheme and introducing a moratorium on rental enforcement; and preserving employment through a new round of the Employment Support Scheme. In addition, we are also disbursing electronic consumption vouchers with a total value of HK$10,000 per eligible person in phases to alleviate people's pressures under the epidemic.

From last year's experience, as long as the local epidemic is successfully controlled, the pent-up consumption and investment demand during the epidemic will regain momentum. With the central government's strong support and the community's concerted effort to fight the virus, we have every confidence we will win the battle soon, enabling Hong Kong's economy to get out of the gloom.  Our real GDP is forecasted to grow by 2 percent to 3.5 percent in 2022. Yet, external uncertainties cannot be taken lightly. The recent conflicts in Ukraine have heightened global geopolitical risks and weighed on global growth momentum by elevating international energy and commodity prices and aggravating disruptions to transportation and supply chains. This may affect Hong Kong's economic performance in the near term.

Looking beyond the short term, the outlook for Hong Kong's economy remains positive. Hong Kong will continue to serve as a "super-connector" bridging the Chinese mainland and global markets, a high-value-added services platform, international talent and capital pool, and an internationally preferred place of doing business. Under its 14th Five-Year Plan, China will continue to promote high-quality growth and deepen its economic reform and opening-up. Moreover, given Hong Kong's unique advantages under "One Country, Two Systems," we will continue to play an irreplaceable role as a gateway, springboard and intermediary in the cultural and economic exchanges between our country and the rest of the world. By doing so, we will scale new heights, opening up greater room for our economic development while contributing to national development at the same time.

This year, Hong Kong celebrates the 25th anniversary of its return to the motherland. We will ride out the storm and are set to embrace the next 25 years and beyond.

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