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                  China Daily

                  HongKong> Opinion> Content
                  Thursday, February 13, 2020, 10:37
                  Spare a thought for health of the Hong Kong economy
                  By Andrew Mitchell
                  Thursday, February 13, 2020, 10:37 By Andrew Mitchell

                  Confirmation last week of the first death in Hong Kong from the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) has understandably intensified fears of a full-scale outbreak here, particularly in light of the fact that many of the most recent cases of infection in the SAR have involved people who had not traveled to the Chinese mainland in the preceding 14 days.

                  However, those who are worried about the virulence of the new coronavirus should bear in mind that the deceased man had diabetes, and according to an analysis published in the medical journal The Lancet, out of the first 99 patients treated for the disease at Jinyintan Hospital in Wuhan, most had “weaker immune functions” as a result of other diseases, including diabetes.

                  Moreover, the mortality rate for the new virus currently stands at only 2 percent, which compares very favorably with the rate of nearly 10 percent for SARS, the coronavirus that hit Hong Kong back in 2003. However, it does appear that the new virus is far more infectious than SARS.

                  For this reason, I strongly urge the government to come up with further support or relief measures to help ease the burden of small businesses during these difficult times

                  My abiding memory of SARS actually came a few years after the outbreak, when a colleague confided to me that her father had passed away as a result of the disease. Up until then, I’d had a fairly dismissive attitude toward the whole episode. After all, SARS had claimed only 299 lives in the SAR, while the earthquake that hit the city of Bam in Iran later the same year had resulted in more than 25,000 casualties. Hong Kong, I reasoned, had gotten off lightly. But of course, that sort of reasoning offers little comfort to the relatives, colleagues, friends and acquaintances of the 299 victims because every death is a tragedy.

                  So as long as we’re in the midst of this “public health emergency”, to use the designation given by the World Health Organization, it’s clear that everyone here needs to remain vigilant. Which means, we need to keep following good hygiene practices — washing our hands regularly; refraining from touching our eyes, nose and mouth; wearing a mask in public places if we have any symptoms of the virus; and so on.

                  We also need to maintain a healthy lifestyle, by eating well, sleeping well, and making sure we exercise regularly. And however concerned we might be about contracting the virus, we need to get out and about. Because being outside boosts our immune system and gives us a valuable dose of vitamin D. And it’s good for our mental health as well.

                  But we shouldn’t just be thinking about our own personal health here; we should also spare a thought for the health of the local economy. Because another of my enduring memories of SARS is the effect it had on small businesses throughout the SAR. I remember in particular one time, not long after the end of the outbreak, when I made my way to my favorite toyshop with the intention of buying a present for my nephew, only to find that the shop was no longer in business. Four months of everyone battening down the hatches, it seems, had taken its toll.

                  And this was by no means an isolated case. My favorite dumpling restaurant, I subsequently discovered, hadn’t survived the outbreak either. Nor had one of the bars I used to frequent. Or countless other bars, restaurants and shops all over the city.

                  Fast-forward 17 years, and history seems to be repeating itself, as Hong Kong people rush to stockpile everything from masks and tissues to rice and vegetables, while shops selling non-essential goods struggle to make ends meet. But, of course, the situation is actually far worse now, as when the first cases of the new coronavirus were confirmed here, local businesses were already reeling from the effects of more than seven months of anti-government protests.

                  For this reason, I strongly urge the government to come up with further support or relief measures to help ease the burden of small businesses during these difficult times. I also encourage landlords throughout the city to reduce the rents they charge their commercial tenants until the outbreak is over.

                  Last but not least, I call on everyone who’s reading this here in Hong Kong to spare a thought for all the local businesses that are currently fighting to keep their heads above water. For the sake of all these businesses, we need to resist the temptation to completely turn in on ourselves in the face of a possible full-blown outbreak of the new coronavirus.

                  If we fail to do this, we may well find that when the current emergency is finally over, many of our favorite shops, restaurants and bars will no longer be there. And that would be a real tragedy as well.

                  The author is an educator, commentator and director of a company providing English language services in Hong Kong. 

                  The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily. 


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