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Political jabs come with the territory

Hong Kong, 16 December 2020: Such is the polarised nature of Hong Kong these days, even something as relatively straightforward as a public health initiative that would seem in everyone’s best interest becomes a political hot potato. So it is with our government’s welcome – and, it appears, judicious – procurement of coronavirus vaccines. The authorities’ intention is to offer every resident of this city free and voluntary immunisation as soon as is practically possible, thereby drastically reducing the spread of Covid-19 and speeding up a return to some sort of normality. What could be wrong with that?

Plenty, according to opponents of Chief Executive Carrie Lam and her administration, since half the government’s initial procurement of 15 million doses of vaccine will come from China. Their concerns were amplified by media reports claiming this particular inoculation, from Sinovac Biotech, was chosen at least in part to appease the pro-establishment camp here. An exasperated Ms Lam yesterday insisted the procurement was based solely on scientific evidence and that her government was trying to provide the safest vaccines for all as quickly as possible. She decried “malicious spreading of rumours” and people “stigmatising and politicising” the initiative.

I have some sympathy for her, but not much. The authorities appear to have acted with reasonable speed and efficiency in procuring 7.5 million shots from Pfizer-BioNTech, the vaccine which is already being rolled out in the UK and US, with the first one million doses to be distributed in the first quarter of next year, and 7.5 million from Sinovac Biotech, which will supply its first million next month. An agreement for a further 7.5 million shots from another major vaccine candidate, Oxford-AstraZeneca, is in the pipeline. Senior health professionals who advise the government have backed the selections, saying they are based on science and logic. The Sinovac Biotech candidate is reported to have been used extensively with good evidence of efficacy, with phase one and two trials peer-reviewed in respected medical journal The Lancet.

However, the fact Hong Kong is so divided is largely down to the actions – or, sometimes, inaction – of Ms Lam and her administration over the past couple of years. Our government is disliked and distrusted by a significant proportion of the population. As a result, all policies and initiatives are bound to be held up for scrutiny and accusations of political bias will never be far away. In such circumstances, uniting the public to fight a pandemic is difficult, to say the least.

For the record, I fully support the concept of vaccines in general and coronavirus vaccines in particular. As matters stand, they are the only way out of this global mess. Of course, there remains much to be done. In many ways, procuring the shots was the easy part for Ms Lam and her team, the difficult task will be administering them on a large scale while managing public expectations and perceptions. This process will be just as vulnerable to misinformation as any other aspect of the pandemic, so I reiterate my advice to listen to the science and adhere to the facts. In this regard, I recommend reading the latest blog from Dr David Owens detailing the vaccination process and appraising the three candidates selected by our government. It is essential reading.

In the meantime, we are continuing to live with strict social distancing regulations as the authorities try to bring the so-called fourth wave of Covid-19 infections under control. There are concerns more people in younger age groups, some with no pre-existing health issues, are being seriously affected. Hong Kong reported 98 new infections and three more related fatalities yesterday, which followed three deaths on Monday. The city’s overall tally now stands at 7,721 infections – I should stress this is still just 0.1% of the population – over the course of this year, with 123 fatalities.

Naturally, everyone is preoccupied with health these days and I’m no exception. I had my annual checkup this week and my GP was pleasantly surprised – actually, more like amazed – at my recent weight loss and fitness improvement. As regular readers may know, I’ve used these months of enforced grounding in Hong Kong to go on a health kick, which has included hiring a personal trainer and dietician and undertaking regular exercise.

With our gyms closed – again, I wish to point out this makes no sense at all – I’ve been working out under the watchful eye of my trainer in a children’s playground near home, complete with yoga mat and weights. If I keep this up, I’ll soon be agile enough to join grandson Nathan on the swings and slides. 

Stay safe and well, everybody!

Colin Cohen
Senior Partner
Boase Cohen & Collins

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