英文

Editorial : The procurement of masks

【明報專訊】IT REMAINS uncertain when the novel coronavirus epidemic will peak. Facing the threat of the virus, the government has to tackle the epidemic and address public sentiments. Both tasks are equally important. Whether Hong Kong will successfully stave off the epidemic depends on whether there are major outbreaks in the communities, the final number of diagnoses and the final number of deaths. At this stage it is difficult to be certain about them. But it is obvious that the government has done a poor job of handling public sentiments. While not everyone is equally afraid of or worried about the epidemic, the chaotic situations originating from the hoarding and price-gouging of masks and the scramble for daily necessities have definitely affected the public as a whole. Citizens do not feel that the government has taken any decisive action to alleviate this problem. The issue of masks reflects the strength and mindset of the SAR government. Unlike the Taiwanese or the Singaporean government, it has not vigorously interfered in the use of and demand for masks. As for ensuring supply, it is doubtful whether its global procurement strategy has been effective.

Last week Hong Kong people rushed to supermarkets to scramble for toilet paper, rice and other food items because of rumours circulating on social media. The hysteria in society became an international talking point. Despite the fact that over the past few days there have not been such chaotic scenes in general, many citizens remain worried that things are out of stock. In supermarkets, big or small, on many housing estates or in shopping malls, racks that held toilet paper, rice and other food items became completely empty or near empty afternoon. Every morning many residents, having accurately identified the time when goods were back in stock in big supermarkets, went there to purchase daily necessities such as toilet paper. Even though some big supermarkets have set a quota on the number of purchases, these goods are sold out quickly nevertheless. If the government deduces from the "relative peace" over the past few days in markets that the situation of people being restless and stressed has been resolved, it will be completely misguided.

Take the issue of masks. Recently what citizens have cared about most is, we are afraid, not what government officials have said but which shop, politician or political party has masks to distribute. What the government has said over and over again over the past few days is that it has been "sourcing masks actively around the world". Regarding the situation in which masks have become so scarce that they cannot be bought regardless of how much money one has, the government's attitude, to put it simply, is that everything has to be determined by the demand and supply of the market. Even though there are hoarding and price-gouging of masks, the government is "powerless to help". While citizens are worried about the lack of masks and go everywhere to look for them, the government has chosen not to act in the name of "avoiding the disruption to the supply", and has refused to introduce regulations to combat the hoarding and price-gouging of masks. It is no wonder that people feel that the government is out of touch with them and has no empathy for citizens' pressing needs.

The problem of mask shortage around the world is so serious that it cannot be solved simply by relying on the so-called adjustments to the free market. Hong Kong is fighting a battle against the epidemic. This being "wartime", it is necessary for the government to put aside its bureaucratic mindset and the shackle of the free market ideology. It must pluck up the courage to regulate masks and other "anti-epidemic strategic supplies".

明報社評2020.02.13:口罩採購說易行難 官僚離地難紓民憂

新型肺炎疫情未知何時見頂,面對病毒威脅,政府除了要處理疫情,亦須理順民情,兩者同樣重要。本港抗疫成功與否,還看未來有否大型社區爆發、最終確診病例和死亡數字等,現階段難以斷言,惟論民情處理,港府表現明顯不濟。公眾對疫症的憂慮恐懼程度,未必人人一樣,惟口罩囤積抬價以及搶購日用品等亂象,卻肯定影響普羅大眾,市民不覺得政府有何果斷措施紓緩問題。口罩問題折射了特區政府的能量和思維,當局既沒有像星台等地政府般,大力介入規管口罩使用和需求,至於確保供應方面,當局的全球採購策略是否高效到位,亦令人相當懷疑。

上周港人受社交媒體流言影響,湧到超市搶購廁紙米糧,社會歇斯底里狀况,成為了國際話題。雖然過去數天,市面大抵再沒有出現搶購混亂場面,可是不少市民仍相當擔心「無貨到」。很多屋苑商場的大小超市,原本擺放廁紙米糧的貨架,一到中午過後,往往是空空如也,又或所餘無幾。每天大清早,不少街坊都看準大型超市剛剛「補貨」完畢,購買廁紙等日用品,即使有大型超市註明每人限購數量,結果還是很快賣完。倘若當局因為過去數天市面「相對平靜」,便以為人心虛怯緊張狀態已經解除,肯定大錯特錯。

以口罩問題為例,近日不少市民最關心的消息,恐怕不是政府官員說什麼,而是哪間商戶或政客政團有口罩派。過去數天政府說來說去,就是「積極全球採購中」;對於市面「一罩難求」、「千金難求」,當局態度一言蔽之是交由市場供求決定,即使有囤積炒賣抬價等情况,政府亦「愛莫能助」。這邊廂市民為口罩不夠用苦惱,四出「撲貨」,那邊廂政府則以「避免擾亂市場供應」之名放棄作為,拒絕插手規管打擊囤積抬價,難怪人們覺得政府「離地」、對市民最切身的問題「無感」。

目前全球口罩短缺程度之嚴重,光靠所謂自由市場調節,實難解決問題。現在香港正在打抗疫戰,「戰時狀態」之下,當局必須擺脫官僚僵化思維、拋開自由市場意識形態包袱,敢於合理規管口罩等重要「抗疫戰略物資」。

■Glossary

stave off : If you stave off something bad, or if you stave it off, you succeed in stopping it from happening for a while.

alleviate : to make sth less severe

pressing : needing to be dealt with immediately

上 / 下一篇新聞