Even though we cannot project the outcome of the global public health crisis developing by the minute, as we pen this column we may evaluate how the MSAR government has acted throughout the ongoing outbreak of the new strain of coronavirus in Wuhan, Hubei Province.
Allow us to brag: this has been a kind of vindication and virtual payback against our sister SAR of Hong Kong. Indeed, Macau has learnt the lessons taken from the idle local approach to the SARS, loosely, a bet on lady luck, and the mishandling of the consequences of the passage of Super Typhoon Hato.
Ho Iat Seng’s executive acted swiftly to secure the first batch of 20 million face masks, and put in place a fair distribution criteria; acted swiftly to inform the public and provide recommendations related to the threat brought by the airborne coronavirus; and, we would underline, acted swiftly to curb the entrance of visitors from Hubei – perhaps as far as it could go regarding the ins and outs at the border gates to the mainland. More than this, the Macau government anticipated the need for additional quarantine facilities – Pousada Marina Infante could be used as an isolation center – and aligned the big employers from the gaming industry and the hospitality sector.
Finally, to summarize some of the steps H.I.S. took to mitigate the potential for a rapid spread of the coronavirus, the CNY break was extended, and the crucial education system is to be closed until… sine die.
Across the Pearl River Delta, the population already strained by the 6-month civic unrest, in the name of further autonomy and pro-democracy, had to resort to long queues in drugstores and pharmacies to grab scarce face masks and other protective gear, such as hand sanitizers or rubber gloves. Adding insult to injury, a pro-establishment lawmaker, Ann Chiang Lai-wan, dared to encourage Hong Kong residents to wash and reuse surgical masks…this way answering to the scarcity of shields. Democrat legislators went on to chastise the administration for the poor handling of the health menace.
Sitting duck Carrie Lam was hesitant to adopt decisive measures to calm the population, just as she was hesitant to establish some type of screening of visitors at the borders to avoid public displeasure. Even pro-Beijinger Alan Leong went astray to point to the Chief Executive’s mishandling of everything.
Back to MSAR, the diligence with which the government, institutions and grassroots organizations are dealing with the public health crisis has not spread to local companies. MDT reported on how companies in the casino and hotel industry, public transportation and food and beverage sectors are trying to “invite” large groups of employees to go on unpaid leave for periods ranging from 10 days to 3 months. The “invitation” can turn into a fait accompli: employees are informed of work re-scheduling and to not return until they are told to come back to their positions. Had they to wonder about the legality of this ´temporary lay-off´!
As we stated above, this is an ongoing situation we should address carefully. But when the situation deflates, the crisis of the 2019-nCoV will be the leitmotiv for raising serious questions.
Writing in “Psychology Today,” professor R. Bartholomew adamantly warned that it is time “to take a deep breath and dial down the hysteria.” He´s probably more than right when he says the “Chinese coronavirus is not the zombie apocalypse.” But we do have to avow the sheer size of the Wuhan operation, and the global impact is more than enough to make us awe.
P.S. It seems that this coronavirus is milder than its cousins of SARS, which was traced to civet cats, and MERS, its transmission linked to camel meat. This CoV is related to bats or snakes. Anyway, it is a spooky landscape. Film fiction has already dealt with viruses: “Outbreak” with Dustin Hoffman; “Contagion” by Steven Soderbergh: and apocalyptic “World War Z”.