Letter to Hong Kong

7/6/2020
RTHK

Austin dearie,

While you have just had your first birthday, the COVID-19 pandemic is still raging all over the world and Hong Kong, of course, cannot be spared.

Hong Kong has been fighting very hard against the virus for almost six months.  Thanks to the concerted effort of all Hong Kong people, the epidemic has been contained and eased slightly.  However, it is rather frustrated that the Government's bureaucratic inertia and "bit-by-bit" responses to control the spread of the virus is far from satisfactory. 

At the beginning, though there are only few confirmed cases being identified in Hong Kong, voices from public health experts have already sounded out their requests to the Government to implement stringent health measures, such as health declarations upon arrival, to stop the influx of potential carriers or infected persons into the local community.  Nevertheless, without suggesting other better alternatives, the Government ignores these proposals.

When it comes to the time where the number of imported confirmed cases is escalating exponentially, most of the public and some of the health professionals strongly demand the Government to shut down Hong Kong’s borders so as to prevent an epidemic in the community.  Making no attempt to put forward sensible justifications, the Government, again, refuses doing so.

It is indeed disappointed to see that the Government’s responses to deal with the COVID-19 epidemic are "disconnected" and, above all, overridden scientific evidences with political considerations.

As a result, without implementing effective and timely preventive measures, the Government fails to cut off the source of the virus flooding into Hong Kong, and, thus, intensify the risk of community outbreaks significantly.

Apart from the Government's slow and indefinite responses to contain the epidemic, it is also astonished seeing that the Hospital Authority is incapable of providing sufficient personal protective equipment (PPE) for frontline health professionals to fight against the infectious virus.

It is noted that a daily limit of using surgical mask for each health professional is imposed, the use of protective clothing is tightly regulated, and, worse still, N95 respirators, goggles and face shields are expected to be reused.

Not to mentioned that the Hospital Authority attempts to justify such restrictive provision with the claim that there is a sudden surge of consumption and an acute under supply from the vendors, it is also rather ironic seeing that in making efforts to top up the overall stock of PPE, which has already dropped from a three months standard to become only a month, the Authority further confines the use of PPE of frontliners by repeatedly scale down the level of protection and specifications of PPE of the infection control guideline.  It is indeed extremely saddened that the safety of frontline health professionals is thus being further threatened and compromised.

Looking back at the SARS epidemic that occurred 17 years ago, though there happened to be fears of unknown and threats of uncertainties, the then Government and the Hospital Authority were able to demonstrate leadership and protection to direct the community and health professionals to fight against the infectious disease.  Community outbreak was being contained by effective preventive health measures.  Frontline health professionals were backing by continuous supply of PPE and other related resources.  At that time, it was also encouraging to see that the community, the health professionals and the Government were all standing together to overcome the crisis.  However, as for today, it is rather disheartened seeing that there is a general lacking of confidence and trust between these stakeholders in combating against the COVID-19 epidemic.  Obviously, frustration and sense of being left alone become phenomenal among the community and frontline health professionals.

To sustain the momentum of the frontliners in fighting against the virus, the Association of Hong Kong Nursing Staff initiated an industrial action named "Protect Yourself with Zero Infection" in February.  While calling for all frontline nurses to strictly observe the infection control guidelines stipulated by the Hospital Authority, it also urged the Hospital Authority to issue appropriate protective equipment to protect patients as well.

Addition to requesting the provision of sufficient PPE and isolations facilities to the frontliners, the initiative also demanded the Authority to transparent its road map & timeline on the topping up of this equipment, and deploy appropriate manpower to deal with the outbreak.

Along with the frustration of the frontline health professional is the despair of the general public in encountering difficulties to obtain sufficient number of surgical masks and alcohol hand rubs to protect themselves from crossed infection during the epidemic.

With no substantial support and assistance from the Government, most people in Hong Kong, are unexpectedly, have to queue up for surgical masks with unreasonable additional charges.

Becoming a scarce goods in the market, surgical masks turn into a kind of luxury products for the weak and vulnerable groups which, in turn, escalated their public health risk.

Paradoxically, while making no attempt offering help to the citizen, the Government, on the contrary, prefers to convince the public that wearing surgical mask is not necessary at all.

Until recently, as the epidemic appears to be settling a bit, the Government, out of a sudden, announces the issuing of free reusable masks, the CuMask+, to all Hong Kong people.  To most of the citizen, who have already dashed to pile up their stock of masks in the past months, are indeed caught by a surprise of such a "never-too-late" mentality of the Government.

Nonetheless, there happened to be a lot of controversies over the CuMask+ scheme since its inception as well.  Queries about its unusual practice of tendering that invited challenges of possible conflict of interests.  The claim that the design of using magnetic field to provide effective filtration is a patented technology, which had been awarded a Gold Medal at the International Exhibition of Inventions of Geneva 2018, is a misleading one and, above all, has never been used in manufacturing the CuMask+.

Moreover, the efficacy and safety of the CuMask+ are also being questioned.  Scientists and technology experts have raised their concerns and pointed out that the six-layers mask is not able to immobilize or kill viruses at all.  Simply because the fibers in the copper-core are sparsely lined and could be damaged by sewing machines during the manufacturing process.  Hence, respiratory droplets may pass through the reusable mask fairly easily.  Besides, testing results also indicated that the size of copper molecules lined in the mask is ranging from less than 0.1 to 1.5 microns, which are found to be small enough to be inhaled during respiration.  Thus, the issue of inducing health risk out weighted its claimed protective function.

With the identification of a string of infections linked to the warehouse cluster early this week, the growing fear of a "super spreader" in the community has raised concerns of a greater outbreak.

Health experts and epidemiologists begin to renew their call for mandatory screening, and pile pressure on the Government to scale up testing capacities in both public and private sectors to identify possible carriers in the community.

Hopefully, the Government will not seek to diffuse these concerns as she did before but to take positive follow up actions to help protecting the community from having a third wave epidemic.

Be that as it may, COVID-19 is going to be a "new normal", it is necessary for the Government to keep monitor the epidemic closely and respond appropriately.  For frontliners and individuals, despite of their frustrations and despair, don't lose hope, just getting back to the basics, i.e. vigilant personal hygiene, proper PPE as required, and, last but not least, stay mentally healthy.

 Bless Hong Kong.

 Uncle Joe