Hong Kongers unite in effort to eradicate COVID-19

Currently residing in Hong Kong, Leadership Network member Wei-Wei Ng says she's been impressed by how Hong Kongers have come together in response to COVID-19, especially considering the outbreak follows so close on the heals of widespread protests that crippled the city for more than six months. She compares the response to COVID-19 in Hong Kong to what she experienced during a short visit to New Zealand in March.
Leadership Network member Wei-Wei Ng wearing a facemask and dark glasses

Wei-Wei: "Having been the epicenter of SARS for over a year, Hong Kongers' adopted a sensible and safe attitude from the very beginning."

It's been interesting to have experienced the impact of COVID-19 on Hong Kong and New Zealand, both places that have been relatively successful in keeping cases and deaths low.

Hong Kong has been dealing with COVID-19 since the last week of January. I have been hugely impressed with the widespread cooperation to keep the virus at bay here, especially given that we have just been through over six months of civil disobedience and a divided city with the Hong Kong protests.

In fact, at first the outbreak in China seemed to feed into political positioning here, adding fuel to demands that Hong Kong close itself off from China. Following that, COVID-19 has been a major reason for the protesting taking a hiatus.

We went from a total warzone - a multiday standoff at a university where there was a petrol bomb assembly line, divided families and police brutality every weekend - to everyone unquestionably accepting that they needed to stay home to save lives.

Having been the epicenter of SARS for over a year, Hong Kongers' adopted a sensible and safe attitude from the very beginning.

Within a week of hearing about the outbreak in Wuhan, wearing a mask and practicing social distancing became part of the social contract for day to day life in Hong Kong – without much prompting from the Government at all.

Really quickly we were working from home where possible and schools were closed, despite having less than five cases.

Due to the pragmatic responses of my workplace, supermarket, gym and local eateries, I felt that the risk of coming into contact with COVID-19 was very low.

People were hyper-cautious and some emails I received at work seemed laughable: 'Please work from home today while we disinfect the office following a colleague's wife sitting near someone on a plane that is now being tested for COVID-19.' That person's test was negative. No one was taking any chances.

Nevertheless, when we arrived in New Zealand for a holiday in March, we were looking forward to a break from working from home and wearing masks. Unfortunately we had timed our arrival just as cases were starting to increase.

We-Wei standing in a queue at the airport wearing a mask

People questioned Wei-Wei's decision to return to Hong Kong but she says she feels safer and freer there than in NZ

Having spent the previous two months consuming COVID-19 news and watching daily press conferences, it felt a bit like groundhog day for us. But then things in New Zealand started to get worse and worse – much more serious than the situation in Hong Kong in terms of infections and also the impact on the economy and day to day life.

Anecdotally, I had heard about people receiving pay cuts or being asked to take unpaid leave in Hong Kong, but no one I knew directly - and we have had a slower economy for the past six months due to protests as well.

So, I was really shocked to hear about friends and family in New Zealand losing their jobs just days after COVID-19 took hold. In Hong Kong the government introduced a relief package for businesses a couple of weeks after New Zealand released theirs, but I have heard that there is a real stigma associated with businesses accepting assistance here in Hong Kong.

All in all, despite our holiday plans being thwarted, flights being cancelled and Leadership Network Advisory Board meetings canned, I feel really lucky to have spent some quality time with my parents during the lockdown. It was lovely to have time to take things slower, to enjoy Mum's garden and Dad's cooking – a stark contrast to normal whirlwind trips back to New Zealand.

In saying that, I was glad to return back to Hong Kong a few weeks ago. Things are largely under control here with very few new cases, although there are still lots of restrictions in place to enforce social distancing.

So many people in New Zealand said to us, "You must be so relieved to be out of Asia" and "Why on earth would you want to go back right now?" Many were surprised to hear that we felt safer and freer in Hong Kong. Maybe they expected Hong Kong to be more like Wuhan and other parts of China, and for things to be more chaotic than back home in New Zealand.

The controls in place at the airport, including being tagged with an electronic bracelet and doing a test, were pretty impressive and thorough. We returned back to do two weeks self-isolation in our apartment, which was heavily monitored by officials.

We've had three days in a week of 0 cases, so it feels like we're just waiting with baited breath for 28 days to pass so life can finally continue... or more likely, so protests can start again!