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So much can change in just a few weeks. In Hong Kong after three weeks with no new cases we started to see a third wave in mid-July. More and more cases with no obvious source. Most recently there has been an outbreak in a dormitory used by dock workers. This is a big deal because if it spreads and interferes with the off loading of products there may be shortages. I think we have to accept and understand that there are limits to voluntary imposed social discipline and then what I refer to as ‘corona-fatigue’ sets in. It is very draining living with uncertainty. It does not help if we are looking for science to take us out of this global crisis. A very real possibility is that there will never be a safe and effective vaccine against the COVID-19 virus.

We had three weeks in Hong Kong with zero new infections. In Vietnam and New Zealand, they had three months clear, not a single new case and then a cluster. South Korea, once touted as a model of containment has had a big outbreak related to churches, 279 new cases on Sunday. One can only look on with the morbid fascination usually associated with disaster movies when one sees the antics of anti-maskers not just in the US but in other countries around the world.

Whilst the data changes, life has been very much the same in Hong Kong. We wear masks when we go out and there are people around. Walking alone by the sea, I do not wear a mask, but I have one to hand. You do not see people walking in the towns without masks. I got on a bus the other day and pulled down my mask to take a bite from my ice cream and the bus driver called me out (pop in the sweeties from below not above).

So, what do we know so far? This is a sneaky virus and it is getting itself comfortable. Asymptomatic carriers are the safe haven for the virus. Such carriers definitely include children. Once a virus gets into a community it will not necessarily rush to claim a new victim. That would be too easy. It spreads around until it finds a host it cannot resist: usually old or with some medical condition. By that time the track and trace strategy has lost its effectiveness. There is now talk of mass proactive testing in Hong Kong. I have no problem with that. If it comes down to the health of society versus a personal privacy issue, society must win out.

There are concerns that the virus might be spreading via food imports and already we are seeing changes in what products are available on our supermarket shelves. This is not just a public health issue but also a political one. This global pandemic is being played out on the background of some sweeping changes in the geo-political landscape. Some very bad people are taking advantage of the chaos caused by the virus to create their own chaos. That sentence will have many interpretations depending on the perspective of the reader. My perspective is that we should not look to politicians for public health advice. At the same time, we must be very wary of public health professionals who claim they know best.

It is a very difficult time for those whom I would refer to as absolutists. I mean this not in a political sense but rather those who have absolute faith in science or religion. I believe that humanity can share both a belief in the scientific process but also a faith in a greater power than we are yet able to comprehend. The COVID-19 virus is out there and is not going away ‘like a miracle’.

We have to learn to live with it and that does mean that life will never be the same again. That is not a bad thing if it means we realise the need to work together for a better future, where we strive for sustainability, equality and humanity.

Keep safe, keep alert and keep faith.

CONTRIBUTOR
Andrew Burd (Prof)

The Chinese University of Hong Kong.

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