Hong Kong's Fishy Covid-19 Numbers

An increasingly captive media allows government to get away with it

Hong Kong is supposed to be an open city but the government is using exaggeration of the threats of Covid-19 to suppress not merely political activism but normal movement.

The daily scaremongering about disease and death is eagerly reported by media increasingly unwilling to ask questions. The horror story is that another 80 or more cases are reported daily, and deaths are highlighted. But look just a tiny bit closer and the exaggeration is obvious.

So far this year, 28,000 people have died in Hong Kong. The number reported to have died from Covid-19 is just 64, or about one in 300. Look a little closer still and the scare story gets even more scary. The average age of Covid-19 deaths is over 80 and most of the deaths have occurred among people already suffering from chronic illnesses. To take the most recently reported deaths: the average age was 86 and most were reported as having chronic illnesses. This compared with average life expectancy in Hong Kong of 83.

Compare too these Covid figures with the mortality rate of other lung-related diseases caused by commonplace bacteria and viruses: tuberculosis (TB) and pneumonia. This year so far pneumonia will probably – judging by the recent past – have accounted for more than 5,000 of the 28,000 deaths.  TB, which kills about 1.5 million a year globally (including many young and middle-aged) probably as many as the coronavirus in Hong Kong. In 2017, 162 people died of it – excluding those with HIV.

Fixation on this one disease is driven in part by its novelty. But Hong Kong is evidence of its use for political purposes, with the government canceling a scheduled election which was certain to show government unpopularity, and daily keeping social restrictions far tighter than justified by the relative threat of the disease to the devastating impact on employment, education and mental health and testing for and treatment of other diseases, notably cancers.

It is also providing a way for Hong Kong’s over-manned police force to find a new target now that demonstrations have ceased temporarily. That is domestic helpers being fined for not keep distances when they are allowed out, usually on Sundays. Minor transgressions see helpers fined HK$2,000 – half a month’s salary. Meanwhile, police take no action against local people crowding markets and shops.

Many helpers are not allowed out at all by their employers. This is illegal but don’t expect Hong Kong authorities to enforce laws supposed to protect these workers, who are always subject to exploitation by agencies charging illegal fees and finance companies making hidden charges which contravene usury laws.

Most recently helpers have been at the center of a scare about Covid clusters – thanks to being required by recruitment agencies to stay in overcrowded and unsanitary boarding houses. The helpers have an incurable problem: they are not Han Chinese.

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