Hong Kong’s response to COVID-19: Can zero case legacy be sustained?


Jasmine Ko - NetMission Ambassador, Teaching Assistant at Y4IG mentorship program

In the first wave (Jan 23) of covid-19, Hong Kong seems to be one of the most vulnerable city with emerging cases confirmed with the virus. We are the first place to report new cases out of mainland China. But recently, Hong Kong has reported no new domestic cases for two consecutive weeks.

Hong Kong’s response to COVID-19: Can zero case legacy be sustained?

Hong Kong confronted a similar pandemic 17 years ago, so can the previous experience of battling earn the city its resilience? Can 2003 SARS teach us a lesson? 

Perhaps. At least Hong Kong has only recorded 1041 confirmed cases (May 7th), and among Asia-Pacific regions we have been doing quite well. And in terms of the number of infections, we have 13.7 cases while Singapore has 78.5 cases for every 100,000 people. 

Lockdown is not a must

Hong Kong and South Korea are leading the way in the fight against the coronavirus – despite neither place having implemented a lockdown. Experts say it is no coincidence that citizens in both places took a proactive approach to defending themselves, rather than waiting for official guidance. 

Yet, Hong Kong government has been extending coronavirus social-distancing rules for a few weeks, in which gathering of more than four people was banned by law. I have not been having any lessons on my campus since late January, eithe 🙁

Together, we fight the virus

Included in the newly-established website, Hong Kong SAR Government has developed an interactive integrated map on live updates of Covid-19 cases. The map clearly demonstrates the confirmed cases on geographical distribution, with the latest status on each case. It is efficient to identify the building with cases in or beyond 14 days, supported by the Land Department. There is an alternative to download mobile app: GovHK Notifications to receive notification of the latest information on COVID-19.

Local innovation to support government

With the pandemic spreading quickly across the globe, the Hong Kong government has issued quarantine orders on people entering the city from all overseas countries and territories.  

As a compliance measure, people under quarantine have been required to regularly report their current real-time locations via instant messaging applications or answer surprise video calls from communication centers.  This approach incurs high monitoring cost to the government, and brings much inconvenience to the home confines.

In order to achieve significantly higher cost-effectiveness, a team of researchers and engineers has innovated and designed an automated geo-fencing technology called “Signature Home”.  The core technology has since been licensed to and deployed by Compathnion Technology Limited as a new mobile app called StayHomeSafe.  

The app has been used by the public since March 14 as a more resource-efficient and friendly way to monitor people under home quarantine. Paired with an electronic Bluetooth wristband worn on the quarantined person, the app can accurately detect whether the home confinee is complying with the quarantine order, and alerts the relevant authorities if not. 

The key idea of Signature Home geo-fencing technology is that the collective signal variations within a certain location are unique to that location, forming its “signature”. The technology hence collects multifarious environmental signals such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and cellular in the dwelling place as its signature.

Social panic from social media

Social media has taken over traditional news channels to deliver Covid-19 news, while often with less efficient fact-checking mechanism. In particular, Hong Kong society is being forced to fight against the spread of the virus before it can recover from the trauma of the anti-government protests.  

It is less likely for the people to stay in rationality and criticise the validity of the news. When there is a social media post warning of running out of mask supply, people in Hong Kong immediately show up queuing for hours for more masks. Also, social media pages and even newspapers started to shame people who were out partying, flippantly not wearing masks. A video of a teenage girl out to dinner while wearing a quarantine bracelet went viral.

Youth initiative on fact-checking

While the world is in a mess with overwhelming information, it is empowering to have a group of university students tackle the problem with academic knowledge. Annie Lab is a student-driven fact-checking project at the Journalism and Media Studies Centre led by Assistant Professor of Practice Dr. Masato Kajimoto. It is a part of a global alliance formed by the International Fact-checking Network to combat misinformation about the COVID-19 outbreak. 

Generally speaking, Hong Kong’s response to Covid-19 is quite positively disciplined. The citizens are relying on social media news platforms, while the corporate encourage employees to keep track on the official news channel from the government. The source of information has been doubted due to political concerns as well. It is a tough time for us to make the right decision and respond in a responsible way.

Author BIO

Jasmine Ko

Jasmine Ko

Jasmine, a Hong Kong global citizen base in Hong Kong. She has organised yIGF locally and regionally as a NetMission Ambassador. She is now in alumni network and serves in Youth4IG as a teaching assistant of mentorship program.

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