OPINION – Alas, a monster named fear

Possibly one of the most depressing sights last week was seeing the comments by local netizens who opposed the return of 115 Macau residents to the city.

Coming from about 13 different countries, most of them have been in European countries with surges in new Covid-19 cases and considered high-risk pandemic regions, such as Portugal or UK.

Comments ranged from describing the returnees as “selfish” or “careless” and asking either for them to be barred entry or required to complete a three-month quarantine.

Let’s start with the basics then: Article 33 of the Basic Law of Macau stipulates that local residents “shall have the freedom to travel and to enter or leave the [Macau SAR] Region”.

So no mention on the Basic Law that residents are allowed entry with the exception of a global pandemic situation. Residents have the right to return, regardless of the situation, it does not matter if they went on vacation or to take care of sick relatives during the Christmas holidays. This is irrelevant.

Secondly, critics seem to forget that it’s not like these residents are simply allowed entry without any precautions or that the flight expenses are covered by the Macau SAR government.

Most of the people returning were caught by surprises by the evolution of the pandemic and not just saw the required quarantine period increase from 14 to 21 days, but also had to find alternative ways to return following the ban by Taiwanese authorities of any transit passengers, barring one of the most common pathways to return to the city.

After paying a considerable amount of money they were required to conduct several nucleic acid tests and to even be allowed to embark on the flights, while donning protective suits during the trip and kept at a distance from each other.

All of them are legally entitled to return and followed all requirements for it.

Of course, no system is flawless, and upon their arrival on January 21, a 43-year old woman tested positive becoming the first reported case in seven months in Macau.

The circumstances that led to this positive test are still unclear, the woman is asymptomatic and fulfilled all requirements and health measures demanded to local authorities.

Of course, netizens did not waste time when the new case was reported, considering it a confirmation of their most irrational fears and demands.

Thankfully health authorities were quick to dispel that the case will lead to any change int he already pretty demanding entry requirements and underlined there is no risk of community infection.

These residents will now have to complete 21 days of mandatory quarantine – out of their own pocket – plenty of nucleic acid to last a lifetime, with some seven days of self-management, just to top it all.

It’s hard to see a resurgence of that pen hostility towards residents – who have any right to leave or return as anyone else – resurfacing, bringing back memories of a time when many residents opposed the return of 50 Macau residents stranded in Wuhan in February, 2020 during the height of the pandemic.

The mission ended up being a resounding success and is even repeatedly used by local authorities as a propaganda tool to show the success of its pandemic prevention efforts.

Health measures are not in place just to keep a complete zero tab on new cases but to make sure no local outbreaks are ever reported. It is normal for some positive cases to be reported as residents return and it is likely there will be more, under perfectly secure quarantine circumstances.

We’re all residents of the same boat, so let’s not start kicking people overboard or refusing to lend a hand to people returning out irrational fears.

[MNA Editor-in-Chief]