A new farce of “fighting the coronavirus pandemic” brought about by virus variants imported to Hong Kong is still on. Being a new focus of attention, the Penny’s Bay Quarantine Center has stolen the show. Living in the buildings the patients diagnosed with variant pneumonia live in or having been to places the patients had been to, inhabitants of various housing estates were coercively sent to Penny’s Bay for 21-day quarantine. However, bungled relentlessly by the government, the arrangement of the quarantine was such a mess that complaints from the segregated, who had already been discontent with the inconvenience caused, rose all round. Recently, it has been reported that collective food poisoning broke out in the center for meals provided by the caterer were rotten, which has made the citizens exceptionally disgruntled. No wonder a citizen leaving the quarantine center tore into bits a letter of appreciation by Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, expressing the grievances against the government for the multiple blunders it committed.
With an Indian contracted with the variant pneumonia covering up where he had been to, it was pardonable that the government, which failed to know the infection chain well, proceeded with extraordinary caution; requesting those who had been in close contact with the infected to be locked down was also a sensible move in the fight against the epidemic. Even so, was it reasonable to take all residents in a multistorey building inhabited by almost a hundred occupants as people “having been in close contact with the infected”? Can a person get in touch with all the dwellers of a building within a couple of days? Leadng a busy life, Hong Kong people seldom run into their next-door neighbors, not to mention those on different storeys. Not holding an inquiry into who had been in close contact with the infected, the government gave no one the benefit of doubt by sending the majority of residents in the building who had not had close contact with the contracted at all to the quarantine center, causing disturbance to residents. That is a standard tactic adopted by cadres on the mainland who usually act rashly and precipitously without considering consequences. Having been put on the list of “people who have been in close contact with the infected” for having been to a place where a Filipino patient had been to, one of your author’s friends was thrown in seclusion in Penny’s Bay. Interestingly enough, when he asked the personnel from the Department of Health about the exact duration of the patient’s stay in the venue, the department was not able to manage to offer an answer. Saying he had not seen any foreigners there during the time when he was there, my friend felt exceedingly discontent. The more miserable mishap was that it clashed with his wedding, so he had to postpone his marriage ceremony that had already been put off once. That is the most important event of his life, but none of the business of the bureaucrats who are not considerate towards other people’s feelings at all.
Power monopolist wanting in incentives to improve
Even though one has really been in close contact with the infected, he/she is not supposed to be sent to a jail-like quarantine center. Why should the citizens who observe anti-epidemic measures be penalized? To wage earners and school students, 21 days is long enough to make them straggle behind normality. No Wi-Fi is installed at the stopgap facility in Penny’s Bay where there are genuine extenuating circumstances, but it is inconceivable that the government is not even able to manage to provide the quarantined with portable Wi-Fi routers so that they can work or study from the center to catch up in their schedules, but only muddle through their work by giving them SIM cards with limited data and poor reception. Have the government officials ever put themselves in citizens’ shoes, thinking about the possible predicament they are in in the quarantine center? Or they just take it as another jail where only water, electricity and basic necessities that keep people alive are needed? Is this the attitude civil servants are supposed to have?
Compared with Taiwan, which is a strait away, Hong Kong has both its preventive and quarantine measures against the plague outshined by the former. Only that Wi-Fi service is provided in the 35 quarantine centers in Taiwan has eclipsed what has been put in practice by the Hong Kong government which is known as a highly efficient administration. The difference surely lies in the fact that the government officials and councilors of the Legislative Yuan in Taiwan are concerned about what the people are worried about, consider what the people think about, or else they will be expelled by the electorate like Donald Trump who failed in the fight against the disease. On the contrary, like the monopolist that caters meals for the quarantine center, the Hong Kong government is the one and only one that serves the city, and how it is empowered has nothing to do with the people it governs. So, if you don’t like the food, it’s your business. There is no incentive for the caterer to improve the meals. In the end, the requirement to maintain basic hygiene could not be fulfilled, which led to the outbreak of the collective food poisoning. By the same token, poor catering services in primary schools exist for the same reason, as primary schools are excluded from the procedure of choosing caterers.
The majority of the 7 million people in Hong Kong nowadays are excluded from the procedure of choosing government officials so that Hong Kong has plunged into such a nadir. Isn’t that also collective food poisoning in a way? Anyone yearns for escaping to a place where choices of restaurants are available from the status quo where there is only one caterer providing meals that make people suffer from both vomiting and diarrhea without other choices available. That said, to the chef of the monopolist, those who think this way are “fugitives from justice”. Ironically enough, the abovementioned story takes place in the capitalist Hong Kong that is known as a city embracing free market.
(Lam Hoi, journalist)
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