The “dynamic zero Covid” versus “living with the virus” debate has been overtaken by events. Omicron is out in the wild, spreading in malls, trains, buses and lifts. The true number of infections is probably many times the confirmed cases and already outstripping the Hong Kong government’s ability to track, trace and isolate.

Nevertheless, the government seems bent on deploying mainland-style Covid-19 strategies that no longer have any chance of working here.

Say the government goes ahead with its plan to test Hong Kong’s entire population. How exactly will that work? China reportedly tested all 14 million people in Tianjin in 4½ hours. Even with help from mainland testing teams, does anyone think Hong Kong can accomplish anything like that?

Mass PCR testing requires people to congregate at testing centres, creating a fertile environment for mass contagion. One superspreader can infect the entire queue.

We could lock down the entire city or implement rolling district-level lockdowns, but studies show that most Covid-19 lockdowns have been an expensive failure. Lockdowns work on the mainland, but China acts fast, when case numbers are much lower.

Moreover, Hong Kong’s infrastructure, population density, subdivided flats, heterogeneous culture, supply chains and international links are all structural impediments to mass lockdowns.

Even with experienced mainland officials now helping to coordinate Hong Kong’s efforts, success is far from assured. Hong Kong frontline workers are inexperienced with mainland techniques and the local populace less pliant. If we are the first Chinese city to utterly fail to contain Covid-19 despite mainland assistance, that is going to look very bad for both Hong Kong and mainland China.

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