For five days in a row Hong Kong has registered single-digit numbers of coronavirus cases, and there are growing calls for the relaxation of social distancing restrictions. It remains unknown when the fight against the pandemic can come to an end. With such a protracted war, as it were, it is easy to feel weary. To tackle the second wave of the outbreak, Hong Kong society as a whole has been under great strain over the past few weeks, and "battle fatigue" has occurred. If the outbreak in Hong Kong continues to ebb away, some of the stringent measures of social distancing can be relaxed in an appropriate manner so as to allow the public to have a respite, be reinvigorated and prepare for the next wave of outbreak.
The outbreak in Hong Kong has stabilised. For a number of days there have been no local cases of unknown sources. Yesterday (April 16) there was even one newly confirmed case only. Hong Kong's second wave of outbreak was triggered by cases in Europe and the US. Since late March, the government has been enforcing a series of community measures one after another against the pandemic including regulations for restaurants, closures of venues and restrictions on gatherings. These measures set out stringent requirements for social distancing and are aimed at breaking chains of infections at community level. Thanks to such hard work for more than half a month, it can be said that the outbreak has been curbed. As a number of restrictions on social interactions will expire next Thursday (April 23), some members of the Executive Council and people in the business sector have said that as the situation has stabilised, they hope the government can lift such measures earlier so that economic activities can return to a more normal level. But the Centre for Health Protection argues that such social distancing decrees must continue.
The numbers of newly confirmed cases are lagging indicators that reflect earlier infections. It is impossible to judge whether the chains of infections in communities have all been broken by merely looking at several days' figures. During the Easter holiday last week, crowds of citizens left their homes for outlying islands to engage in outdoor activities in the countryside. It remains uncertain whether new clusters of infections have thus formed. Furthermore, the DSE examinations kick off next Friday and large numbers of candidates will assemble. Though examination halls are easier to control than many high-risk venues, there is still some degree of danger. At least two weeks' inspection is necessary to ascertain whether the outbreak in Hong Kong will rebound. In order not to let our previous effort go to waste, those restrictions cannot be lifted hastily. Citizens and industries affected have to endure the situation with stoicism for a longer period of time. At the same time, the government must consider carefully in what circumstances some anti-pandemic measures can be loosened appropriately.
Restrictions on restaurants and closure orders have affected many businesses. Immense interests are at stake. When the outbreak was at a critical juncture previously, society as a whole was aware of the necessity to impose restrictions so as to prevent clusters of infections from continuing to emerge in high-risk venues. Still the government had to cope with extremely strong resistance from the industries, so much so that the measures were delayed repeatedly. Now that the outbreak is easing, it is inevitable that complicated interests will come into play when decisions are being made concerning which measures can be relaxed earlier and which cannot be relaxed hastily. Every industry that has been affected wants to do business again as soon as possible. The government should base its decisions on whether a reasonable control of infection risks is possible rather than pressure from industries.