Mask-free HK far from normal

After almost three years, the Hong Kong government returned the right of freedom of mask-wearing to the people last Wednesday (March 1), marking an end of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Announcing the long-awaited move on Tuesday, health minister Lo Chung-mau said the axing of the mask mandate signified the city was returning to a state of normality. “We hope that tomorrow, March 1, will be a better day. We can all show our smiles and say ‘Hello Hong Kong’,” Lo said.

He was referring to the slogan of the government’s recent global campaign to lure visitors to the city.

Lo’s smile, or himself indeed, was nowhere to be seen on Wednesday. He had not appeared in any public occasions. Many Hongkongers went out with their masks on for various reasons, or no reason, keeping their smiles, if any, with coverings.

The symbolic importance of Hong Kong returning to normalcy with the removal of the mask mandate has been significantly diluted by the pragmatism of Hongkongers when it comes to health risk.

And when it comes to substance, the proclamation of the city back to a state of normality has failed the reality test. Cases are aplenty that Hong Kong is all but normal.

It would only have been normal that the end of the Covid-19 pandemic marks the beginning of a full investigation, or at least thorough review, of the government’s fight against the pandemic.

A few weeks ago, Professor Yuen Kwok-yung, a government health adviser, indeed issued a joint call with several University of Hong Kong experts for the setting up of an independent body to review the anti-Covid work. He raised questions needed to be answered through a review including why more than 13,000 people died of Covid-19 and that the death toll in Singapore was just about 1,700.

Chief Executive John Lee was quick to dampen the inquisitive spirit of Yuen and other scientists, insisting that the government has regularly evaluated their work and made improvements.

The issue of an independent probe into the pandemic vanished from the public arena after Lee spoke. Health experts kept silent. There was no serious debate about the idea at the Legislative Council. Media and social groups appear to have resigned to the reality of the futility of arousing public attention on an important issue after Lee’s dismissal of the idea.

Call it normal abnormality in new Hong Kong.

More than three years after protests against an extradition bill morphed into a massive social unrest, the damages to the city’s social and political fabrics of the society are yet to be repaired.

The Government has earlier raised hopes that the investigations of more than 6,000 cases related to the 2019 protest will be concluded within February. Media quoted anonymous sources as saying on the last day of February they now hope to wrap up the cases in March.

It would have come more than three years after the protest erupted in June 2019.The lengthy investigations are hardly normal and reasonable.

Rocked by the aftershock of the social movement, the political scene is riddled with abnormality and absurdity.

The Democratic Party, literally still the city’s pro-democracy flagship, has been frustrated by repeated failure to hold a dinner for their members and friends since last year. Several restaurants which had hitherto accepted their booking had closed down temporarily, citing such reasons as pandemic-related urgent work and gas supply problem, in the hours of their dinner booking.

While keeping their fingers crossed on their dinner now rescheduled in mid-March, party staff told journalists they might need a “Plan B”.

Unusual though it is, the story of the Democrats’ dinner has drawn scanty public attention as if it is only normal for them to have become unwelcome customers in restaurants in the new era.

To promote the post-Covid Hong Kong, the Government has mounted a massive “Hello, Hong Kong” global campaign aimed to lure tourists back.

But it was the unfolding of horror and sinister acts in the murder of Hong Kong model Abby Choi that has drawn world attention to the city.

On a long list of questions people would like to know is whether the Police has conducted investigation into the family allegedly involved with the killing given their record of suspected serious crimes.

Welcome to a “normal” Hong Kong!

▌[At Large] About the Author

Chris Yeung is a veteran journalist, a founder and chief writer of the now-disbanded CitizenNews; he now runs a daily news commentary channel on Youtube. He had formerly worked with the South China Morning Post and the Hong Kong Economic Journal.