No one dares criticize Hong Kong’s Covid-19 response

Masho Lomashvili

 

This month, Hong Kong recorded one of the highest death rates in the world. Over 300,000 people are in quarantine and fears of a possible citywide lockdown has led to widespread panic-buying, causing artificial supply shortages. According to activists and exiled lawmakers, the health system is collapsing — partly as a result of an exodus of doctors and nurses in the wake of the introduction of the national security law.

Hong Kong’s healthcare system is under pressure. Not just from the unprecedented influx of patients, but also from the government itself. It has forced the city’s largest health trade union to disband under the national security law, after it went on strike in 2020.

To cope with the staff shortage, teams of more than 1,000 medical workers from mainland China have been arriving in Hong Kong on health missions. Their airport arrivals have been heavily publicized in state media as a show of unity between China and Hong Kong.

And if there’s been a failure by the authorities, no one dares to say it out loud.

“Over the last decade in China, every time there is a legitimate localized or national public health crisis, anyone who engages in conversation around that — whether it’s through independent investigation or sharing information — ultimately becomes a target of the authorities,” Michael Caster, a digital rights researcher at Article 19, told me.

Even a simple question can get you in trouble. This week, a reporter from Hong Kong station Now TV asked the city’s hospital authority how mainline medics would be held accountable if there was a medical mishap. “How can people file a complaint in case of medical incidents?” she said during a press conference.

The reporter was summarily bashed by state-backed outlets, saying her question had triggered “public anger.” A pro-Beijing activist group even started a petition against her, calling her unprofessional and in possible violation of the national security law.

Her media outlet immediately apologized on her behalf.

Back in 2021 Health Secretary Sophia Chan claimed that silencing critics and outlawing “unnecessary, irrational arguments,” would allow Hong Kong to handle the virus better.

But it hasn’t worked. 

“I think the lack of transparency and the lack of any challenge to the government for the last two years is part of why they’ve just completely mishandled the Omicron outbreak,” said Sam Goodman, a senior policy advisor at Hong Kong Watch, a non-governmental organization that monitors the conditions of human rights, freedoms and rule of law in Hong Kong.

He described how Hong Kongers fear using the government’s contact tracing apps and Covid-19 tests, and that there are widespread worries that their genetic data will be passed on to the Chinese government.

IN OTHER INFODEMIC NEWS  by Isobel Cockerell

The Ukrainian people are facing a deluge of infectious diseases. A grim surge of HIV and tuberculosis is expected as a result of the invasion. Ukraine already has one of the world’s highest tuberculosis rates, as well as the second-highest prevalence of HIV in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. There’s a terrible irony to this news. For years, Kremlin-backed disinformation campaigns have pushed a Soviet-era narrative that HIV is a biological weapon developed by the U.S. military. Sound familiar? It’s part of the same propaganda that we’re seeing about the Ukraine war today, claiming that U.S.-run biolabs are the real cause of the invasion. These campaigns have left a tragic legacy in post-Soviet countries, including Russia and Ukraine, where those with HIV/AIDS live with extreme discrimination, lack of access to antiretroviral drugs, and denialism that AIDS even exists.

South Africa’s department of science and innovation has reportedly instructed scientists not to comment publicly about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The attempt to muzzle academics from expressing themselves about the war has caused uproar in South Africa’s scientific community, who were allegedly told to keep silent by a senior official in the department of science and innovation, saying ties with Russia should be maintained despite the invasion. “They seem to be concerned their subsidiaries might join the global outcry against Russia and support for Ukraine that other academic institutions around the world have rallied around,” a government research scientist told Research Professional News. The attempt to maintain South African ties with Russian science is in contrast to Europe’s scientific policy, which has rolled back its support for Russian science in protest of the invasion. 

Telegram has emerged as a go-to platform for people seeking updates about the war in Ukraine. But vaccine misinformation on the platform continues to go unchecked. This week, a viral post falsely claimed the immune systems of vaccinated people worsen by 5% every week. It also claimed the Covid vaccine caused AIDS. “While we are distracted with the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, the U.K. government discreetly published data confirming that those who have received all three “experiment” doses are only a few weeks away from developing HIV,” a Spanish language group with more than 18,000 subscribers posted this week. Peruvian investigative journalism website Ojo Público was forced to debunk the channel’s claim as it had gained so much traction.

WHAT WE’RE LISTENING TO 

What exactly is up with the U.S.’s far-right bromance with Russia? This segment for WNYC’s On the Media, with Casey Michel, digs into why white nationalists like Nick Fuentes, David Duke, Richard Spencer, and Matthew Heimbach have long been inspired by Putin’s Russia as a model for their movement. For context, many of these far-right influencers have spent the pandemic blaming the virus on Jews, linking it to conspiracy theories, or claiming it just doesn’t exist. Now, they’ve pivoted to calling Putin their “Czar.”

Tracking coronavirus disinformation from around the world

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