Around a hundred paper graves have been erected at Tamar Park outside the Central Government Offices to mourn those who died in the SARS pandemic in 2003, as Chinese state leader Zhang Dejiang arrived in the city for a three-day visit.

They were prepared by the Neo Democrats party, taking aim at Zhang – who was the top official of Guangdong in 2003. They accuse him of deliberately withholding information about the outbreak in China, leaving Hong Kong unprepared when the virus hit the city and ultimately cost 299 lives.

“The culprit Zhang Dejiang received promotions, but he never publicly explained the whole story of the pandemic, he also owes Hong Kong people a solemn apology,” the party said.

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The paper graves erected by Neo Democrats. Photo: Neo Democrats

The party also said that the economic aftermath of the pandemic caused Hong Kong to rely on measures from Beijing, namely the Individual Visitor Scheme and the Mainland and Hong Kong Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement treaty.

“It set a time bomb for all sorts of confrontation between Hong Kong and China nowadays – it could be said the effects of the pandemic have continued,” it added.

When Zhang arrived in Hong Kong on Tuesday, he said at the airport that he and the Hong Kong government had achieved victory during the SARS pandemic.

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Zhang Dejiang. Photo: Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores via Facebook.

Hongkongers have recently been sharing posts and news related to 2003 online, mourning the eight medical professionals who died during the pandemic, including Joanna Tse Yuen-Man, the first public hospital doctor to die from SARS.

“How could you say ‘we achieved victory in fighting SARS together’?” doctor and lawmaker Kwok Ka-ki asked.

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The 2003 SARS outbreak. Photo: Alex Hofford.

A report from the official Xinhua news agency on the visit did not mention Zhang’s words on SARS, focussing instead on his meeting with top government officials.

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.