Hong Kong has one foot on safe ground and the other balanced precariously on a banana peel. Our cases of Covid-19 remain relatively few, but this is beginning to change.

According to a recent article that referenced epidemiology, Hong Kong has managed to slow the spread of Covid-19, presumably through applying defensive training, overlaid with the memory of real terror from the 2003 SARS experience.

With little to no help, support or guidance from the government, the people of Hong Kong have been “doing it for themselves” and managed to maintain some of the lowest number of cases globally, even though our front door has remained wide open since late January 20, and the virus has been present in the territory ever since.

File photo: Paul Stableman, via Flickr.

Just after Lunar New Year, when there was no reliable data about the mysterious coronavirus – it’s contagion factor, mortality or morbidity rate – Hongkongers initially experienced the fear and subsequent hoarding that has now engulfed the entire world.

However, we did it with relative order, but most importantly while maintaining basic hygiene and infection-prevention etiquette.

The aggressive scenes from Costco in the US, and other major supermarkets in Europe and Australia have been an embarrassment, with supermarkets and airport scenes absolutely representing the equivalent of mass gatherings – large, terrified and angry groups of people cheek-to-cheek and face-to-face, without any protection.

Westerners shirk mask-wearing, with many polled considering it to be something that “only Asians do.”

However – data trumps stigma. As of March 16, the numbers of cases in the USA and elsewhere are skyrocketing, yet new cases in Hong Kong remain low, which is somewhat surprising and also highly impressive, considering the Hong Kong government did not, and still has not, closed borders with China, where the coronavirus first appeared in Wuhan, in December 2019.

The collective applications of obsessive hand hygiene, continuous use of masks (and in desperate times, any type is better than none at all), diligent home hygiene protocols, sanitising high traffic items such as door handles and lift buttons, and overall social distancing are credited with the low number of new cases in Hong Kong.

However we sit on the precipice of the next wave of Covid-19 cases in Hong Kong, these being re-imported from overseas. Ironically, the virus is being repatriated back towards China, where it first appeared.

Although the Government has randomly assigned quarantine measures at later stages of this pandemic, it is the measures taken by the Hong Kong people from Day One that have made Hong Kong a very attractive place for foreigners to flee to, regardless of quarantine threats, as well as expats returning home.

A number of flights cancelled at Hong Kong International Airport. Photo: Rachel Wong/HKFP.

Many expats swiftly departed Hong Kong in late January and early February once schools closures had been announced, originally until March 3, then March 16, and currently April 20.

The countries most expats returned to perhaps had a 4-5 week relief from school closure, intensive hygiene protocols and self-imposed isolation. However a complacent lifestyle has seen cases skyrocket in Europe, the UK and the USA, which are now listed as high- and medium-risk continents.

It’s an unforgivable travesty that the CCP did not move swiftly and with a mantle of transparency and altruism to disclose Covid-19 as soon as those first courageous doctors attempted to notify authorities.

Applying the laws of epidemiology, early warnings might have significantly reduced the incredible numbers of cases in China, and perhaps controlled the spread first to Europe, the Middle East, and now globally.

Time was of the essence. The free-fall impact on global economies, industry, commodities, and the burden on healthcare systems and education systems could have been significantly curtailed.

File photo: GovHK.

But what’s done is done, and as expats return home with their children, potentially as vectors of Covid-19, all of us collectively – all Hong Kong people need to once again muscle up, and continue to live and operate as vigilantly and defensively as we did in January.

Don’t be afraid to tell your friend to wear a mask, to cough into their elbow, or offer them some alcohol handgel. The champion strategy that Hong Kong people have en-masse is to socially and responsibly push every single one of us to do the right thing.

This is how we’ve defended ourselves since the first appearance of Covid-19 in January, and this is how we’ve kept the cases low. We’ve done it before, and we can do it again.

Dr Ariane M. Davison

Dr Ariane M. Davison is a virologist and immunologist with experience in the global healthcare and biotechnology industries. She earned her doctorate from The University of Sydney Medical School, has presented by invitation at international conferences, and her original work has been published in international scientific journals.