On Sunday the 19th of July, Hong Kong passed the mark of 100 new infections in a day and is now in the midst of its third and most serious wave of COVID-19 cases. From having one of the most internationally lauded responses to the virus, Hong Kong now faces a potential new danger zone. Earlier last week, Carrie Lam announced the reintroduction of stricter social distancing measures.
From the 19th to the 21st July, we at Redfield & Wilton Strategies conducted a poll to understand how adults in Hong Kong perceive their government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. We found that as the crisis has worsened, so too has the public’s perception of its government. In June, when there were just 4 deaths related to COVID-19, we found that over half (51%) of Hong Kong respondents said their government did not handle the coronavirus crisis well. Now, with the rise in cases, this proportion has risen to 60% of respondents saying the Hong Kong Government has not handled the coronavirus crisis well.
A plurality of respondents (45%) disapprove of the government’s handling of the coronavirus and 30% approve. While Hong Kong’s spike in cases could explain the decrease in government approval, this result may still be surprising to Western audiences who saw Hong Kong’s from the outside and considered it successful.
By way of comparison, in June we found that 43% of respondents in the UK felt their Government has handled the crisis well, a much higher proportion than Hong Kong’s 30%. This result is despite the fact that Hong Kong has seen 14 deaths in total while the UK has had 45,501 deaths, a level over 3,000x greater than Hong Kong’s.
The Hong Kong public’s critical perspective of its government is likely linked to the deterioration in trust between the government and citizens as a result of the political upheaval since 2019. Yet, partisan influences also shape Hong Kong residents’ perception of their government’s handling of coronavirus. 61% of 2016 voters for the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, the largest pro-Beijing party, say the government has handled the crisis well.
The Hong Kong government’s fortunes stand in great contrast to Taiwan’s government. In our latest poll in Taiwan, we found that an overwhelming majority of respondents (79%) believe the Taiwanese Government has handled the crisis well. While Taiwan is not facing the resurgence of cases as in Hong Kong, the gulf in levels of approval is probably not only explained by the coming third wave, but also by the greater social tension and mistrust in Hong Kong.
In June we wrote that the Hong Kong public approves of its own coronavirus response but not its Government’s. Citizens voluntarily donned masks without a government mandate, and nurses went on strike to force stricter government action. While 43% of respondents still approve of how the broader public in Hong Kong has handled the coronavirus crisis, this level of approval was much higher in June when 64% expressed their approval. These results suggest that as the situation gets more serious, the public’s focus is no longer solely on its government’s response.
Respondents’ views on quarantine measures hint at some of their frustrations. There is extremely strong support (75%) for Hong Kong’s quarantine centres. This result might be viewed as an endorsement of government policy. However, the strong support is likely also a sign of the frustration in Hong Kong about quarantine and testing exemptions for those in various professions such as cross-border freight-delivery drivers, air crew, sea crew and foreign consular staff.
The government justified the relaxation of the rules by saying that the economy needed to transition back to normal functioning. However, as cases began to rise, on July 10th the requirement for a negative COVID-19 test for air and ship crews entering Hong Kong was reintroduced. The government’s earlier exemptions to crew are now seen as a misstep, as many of the asymptomatic cases that entered the community are now causing a third spike.
Further evidence of the Hong Kong public’s backing for stringent COVID-19 measures is that 62% approve of the use of ankle bracelets to monitor whether they have followed the rules for self-quarantining for those who are allowed to self-quarantine in their homes.
Another contentious issue contributing to government disapproval has been its reluctance to fully shut the border with China, citing economic and logistical reasons. As with the quarantine measures, it seems the Hong Kong public expects public health exigencies to be prioritised over economic ones. Furthermore, many suspected that there were political motives behind the decision to not fully shut the border, further heightening disapproval of the government’s handling.
In May, the government announced plans for a travel bubble between Guangdong Province and Macau. In June, the plans stalled due to technical difficulties, according to the Government. However, such a measure would likely have been highly unpopular. A majority of respondents (51%) say they would oppose the Government in Hong Kong further reopening the border with mainland China in the near future. Only 23% say they would support such a measure. Although the travel bubble has not been instituted, it is likely that the prospect of the measure has still affected public approval for the government who feel that the government is putting political concerns ahead of their health and safety.
If the Hong Kong government can control this third wave of cases, it may be possible to avoid further deterioration in its public approval. However, if the spread of the disease continues to go unchecked, it is likely that public trust in the government, already significantly dented by the controversy surrounding the National Security Law, will further spiral.
To find out more information about this research contact our research team. Redfield & Wilton Strategies is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.