Hong Kong third wave: why mainland China’s help in fighting Covid-19 has sparked anxiety rather than appreciation

Nearly a week after seven experts from mainland China arrived in Hong Kong as part of a first batch to help the city battle the third wave of coronavirus infections, the prevailing reaction to the gesture appears to be anxiety and apprehension rather than appreciation.
The team, with another 60 members to follow later, was dispatched to Hong Kong to help with universal testing and to design and develop at least two makeshift hospitals to relieve the strains showing in the overburdened health care system, reeling from 3,938 cases so far, including 47 deaths.
The negative reactions among certain quarters persisted even after Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor announced on Friday that residents would be eligible for one free coronavirus test as the city struggled with its worst Covid-19 outbreak.
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The universal tests, which will be voluntary and ready in two weeks’ time, will be run with the help of a team of medical experts from mainland China and private laboratories.
In the lead-up to the announcement – shrouded in secrecy that fuelled speculation, said critics – the government found itself in a tight spot, being criticised by all sides.
Opposition politicians warned of the risks of personal and DNA data being transferred to the mainland authorities while Lam’s own team of local experts resisted the idea of conducting universal testing, saying it was neither cost-effective nor necessary when the focus should be on vulnerable groups.
In an attempt to address privacy concerns in the community, Lam pledged that the identities of those who were tested would not be revealed to the laboratories.
“I hope society can stop all kinds of conspiracies, defaming, smearing and creating conflicts, and should not undermine the relationships between the central government and Hong Kong, especially as it was the (city) government that sought the mainland’s help this time,” the chief executive said.
“I particularly hope the relationship between the central government and Hong Kong won’t be damaged.”
She said with the mainland’s help, the government would expand community treatment facilities at the AsiaWorld-Expo exhibition centre and at a site next to it, providing up to 2,000 beds. At the same time, three mainland-linked laboratories would work with the experts from across the border to increase the capacity for universal tests.
On paper, the request for help – which became public knowledge late last month – and the response from the mainland looked innocuous and generous. In pictures, smiles and handshakes when the first team arrived last Sunday suggested things were off to a peaceful start.
But the cordial atmosphere of a welcoming reception hosted by the government was in stark contrast to protests staged by localist district councillors on Wednesday outside a Yau Ma Tei hotel where the mainland team stayed.
Similar scenes took place on Friday, when the government revealed it planned to build a temporary lab at a local park for the mainland experts to carry out coronavirus tests. A group of opposition district councillors showed up to protest.
Analysts said they were not surprised, as the offer had become politicised – as with almost any issue involving the mainland – and came at a time when the city was reeling from dealing with the rolling out of the new Beijing-imposed national security law.
But others also pointed to the administration’s failure to provide any concrete plans on how the mainland help would be channelled, adding the lack of information was fuelling the confusion and apprehension.
Professor Ray Yep Kin-man, a political scientist at City University, said the government was to blame for not providing enough information to the public.
“The government did not bother to tell the media the activities of the mainland team helping to boost testing capacity,” he said.
“The government naming the temporary hospital to be built next to the Asia World-Expo as the Hong Kong version of Wuhan’s Huoshenshan Hospital, a makeshift medical facility for those infected w…
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