Hong Kong’s fight against the coronavirus pandemic has put it in an enviable position. Bolstered by a public that learned difficult lessons from the 2003 SARS pandemic, and because of a relatively swift government response this time around, this city of roughly 7 million people has suffered fewer than 12,000 cases and only 205 deaths. It never underwent the large-scale, harsh lockdowns implemented elsewhere. The inconveniences that the pandemic brought here—closed beaches, overly crowded hiking trails, and an on-again, off-again curfew for bars and restaurants—seemed rather minor, petty even, in comparison with the collapsing health-care systems and mass burials experienced in other countries.
Now, however, the city is having trouble getting the public to take part in its vaccination drive, an effort hampered in large part by deep suspicion of the government and a historically unpopular leader who has struggled mightily to convince the public of the benefits of getting inoculated. An abundance of vaccines, officials are discovering, means very little when trust is in such short supply.
The problems plaguing Hong Kong’s vaccine efforts are unique, coming as they are at a time when Beijing is setting about on a program to comprehensively restructure the city’s institutions. But numerous other countries across Asia that did well in their initial efforts to suppress the pandemic are also stumbling in their vaccination programs. Along with Hong Kong, Japan and South Korea are struggling to get vaccines distributed at speed. In mainland China, where the virus originated and where officials have touted the superiority of homegrown vaccines and deployed them as a diplomatic tool, the rollout has also been rocky. The reasons in each country differ, but the delays threaten to put the region behind places such as the United States and Britain that were previously hit hard by the pandemic but have quickly vaccinated large swaths of the population, opening the possibility of economic rebound, freer travel, and a greater sense of normality.