Hong Kong has 7 million inhabitants, a border with China, and is home to an important transport hub. Yet, as of June, the Special Administrative Region reported just four deaths related to Covid-19. By comparison, New York, a city with roughly the same number of inhabitants, lost more than 17,000 lives to the virus. This disparity prompts the question of who should be credited with such a success in Hong Kong.
In the midst of protests surrounding Beijing’s imposition of a new national security law in Hong Kong, we at Redfield & Wilton Strategies conducted a poll last weekend to understand how a representative sample of adults in Hong Kong perceive their government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.
We found that despite their low level of casualties, over half (51%) of Hong Kong respondents believe their government did not handle the coronavirus crisis well.
Likewise, 54% of respondents said the Hong Kong Government’s actions in response to the pandemic fell short, and that the Government could have done more. For those who voted for the Democratic Party in the 2016 elections, the pro-democracy opposition party, this figure mounts to 70% of respondents.
For context, earlier this year, in February, medical workers went on an unprecedented strike after it was revealed that hospitals were experiencing a shortage of masks while pro-Beijing Chief Executive Carrie Lam delayed closing the border with China.
By contrast, we found that a large majority approves of the public’s handling of the coronavirus crisis (64%). Unlike the two previous questions, this finding does not follow broad party divisions with just a 3-point difference between those who voted for Ms Lam’s party and those who voted for the Democratic Party in 2016.
SARS-CoV-2 isn’t Hong Kong’s first pandemic in recent history, and many adults in Hong Kong still remember the SARS crisis in 2003. The memory of the SARS epidemic may be illustrated by our finding indicating that about three quarters of respondents always wear a mask when leaving their home.
Despite the majority’s dissatisfaction with the government’s response to the coronavirus, 63% of respondents think that the government should somewhat be credited for the successful mitigation of the pandemic. This figure is interestingly balanced between party divisions with nearly two thirds of those who voted for the Democratic Party in 2019 attributing some credit.
In particular, a vast majority of respondents approve of governmental measures designed to impose mandatory quarantines. Indeed, 75% of respondents approved of the government’s practice by which those who travel from abroad or who have been in contact with suspected cases of coronavirus are sent into isolation centres.
Similarly, about two thirds approve of the use of ankle bracelets to monitor those who are allowed to self-quarantine in their home, a measure once again approved across political lines.
Lastly, as protesters take to the streets to denounce Beijing’s new law, respondents are showing suspicion towards China’s handling of the coronavirus. Indeed, we found that a majority of respondents believe that the Chinese Government covered up or hid the seriousness of the threat from coronavirus when the virus first emerged.
Moreover, while a majority (42%) believes that the pandemic originated from a wet market in Wuhan, it should be noted that a third of respondents identify the source of the virus in a special lab in Wuhan where a researcher studying coronavirus accidentally got infected. This represents half of those who voted for the pro-democracy Civic Party in 2019.
Our research thus indicates that the Hong Kong public largely approves of the population’s handling of the coronavirus crisis, but disapproves of the Hong Kong Government’s handling of it. Respondents, however, do concede some credit to Ms Lam’s administration through her implementation of quarantine measures. However, in the midst of ongoing protests against the pro-Beijing government, there is a degree of anger and scepticism regarding the Chinese Government’s role in the coronavirus pandemic, thus weakening Ms Lam’s approval ratings.