Friday, February 3, 2023

Richard Cullen on The Hong Kong and Greater China Response to COVID-19 (new book chapter)

"The Hong Kong and Greater China Response to COVID-19"
Richard Cullen
in How COVID-19 Took Over the World: Lessons for the Futureedited by Christine Loh (HKU Press, February 2023), Chapter Eleven, pp. 195-218
Introduction: This chapter examines how the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) developed and managed its response to the COVID-19 pandemic starting in early 2020. This review includes a comparative discussion of COVID-19 responses in other jurisdictions in Greater China and Singapore. 
     In June 2020, the International Monetary Fund said that the COVID-19 pandemic had generated ‘a crisis like no other’. The investigative approach in this chapter relies on an event-based evaluation of how this crisis unfolded in the HKSAR. The aim is to form an understanding of certain key elements that shaped what happened and to use this to discuss serious ongoing challenges and future pandemic-related choices.
         The concept of the social contract, discussed more fully in Chapter 6, is used below to help inform how particular approaches to dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic have evolved, especially in East Asia. The US political sociologist Barrington Moore advanced a version of ‘class analysis’ that argues that certain societal structures influence the primary protocols of a given social contract. Briefly, this argument holds that operational political regimes are shaped by the social class structure of a given jurisdiction. 
        One feature that emerges from the following discussion is how decision-making during the pandemic in Hong Kong has been significantly shaped by the priority given to securing the health and well-being of the ‘grassroots’ or the working class in Hong Kong. Given that government in pre-1997 British Hong Kong was long seen to favour the needs of the professional and elite business class—a trend continued after the creation of the HKSAR—this prioritising of the needs of the very large, vulnerable, working class in Hong Kong is not, at first glance, what one might expect. Yet it has happened—and this pattern has significantly tracked the approach adopted in the mainland. This matter is discussed again in the conclusion. 
      The next part discusses certain initial challenges and how these were addressed before examining how the first four COVID-19 waves were tackled in Hong Kong prior to discussing Hong Kong’s struggle to cope with the devastating fifth wave in early 2022. A comparative review of basic responses in certain other jurisdictions (with a focus on Greater China) follows. After this, there is a wider review of the ‘zero-COVID’ and ‘living with COVID’ approaches, including a discussion of relevant political, social, and economic aspects. Finally, this chapter considers ongoing and future challenges faced by Hong Kong, and lessons learnt from the COVID-19 pandemic. 

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