HK business chiefs, pro-China politicians attack govt over outbreak

In a photo taken on Jan 26, 2020, a woman wearing a face mask walks before the city skyline in Hong Kong. PHOTO: AFP

HONG KONG • Pro-democracy protesters have all but vanished from the streets of Hong Kong in the past month over fears of the coronavirus, but the outbreak has broadened discontent with the city's leadership and China's influence on the financial hub.

Some business leaders and pro-Beijing politicians have joined pro-democracy and union figures in attacking Chief Executive Carrie Lam's administration for what they see as an uncoordinated response to the outbreak and its refusal to seal the border with mainland China, which might have prevented infections.

"Regardless of political opinions, people in Hong Kong have already lost confidence in the government of Carrie Lam," said Mr Mike Lam, chief executive of the AbouThai department store chain.

Mr Lam's stores have experienced some of the chaos caused by the virus, recently receiving almost 100,000 applications for only 3,400 boxes of surgical masks in stock, he said.

Hong Kong's 7.5 million residents have largely ignored the government's attempts to calm the situation, panic-buying food staples and toilet paper in supermarkets and forming long queues for masks and hand sanitiser where they could be found.

The city has reported at least 68 infections and two deaths from the virus. Ten border crossings out of 13 with mainland China have been closed since early this month. But Mrs Lam's refusal to completely shut the border - largely seen as a move to appease Beijing - has also inflamed many.

Four current and former leaders of the territory's Liberal Party, which is generally in favour of business, the government and China, criticised Mrs Lam on the issue. "As the new coronavirus wreaks havoc on the mainland, the only right decision you should make is to immediately close the border," they wrote to Mrs Lam this month.

Three-quarters of the city's residents agree, according to a survey by the Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute released earlier this month.

Labour activist Lee Cheuk-yan said the next marches will likely start around July 1, the 23rd anniversary of Britain handing back control of Hong Kong to China, or earlier if the outbreak subsides. "The anger that is building up will fuel future protests against the government and for democracy," he said.


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 22, 2020, with the headline HK business chiefs, pro-China politicians attack govt over outbreak. Subscribe