Tuesday, 24 June 2003

Hong Kong (Fides Service) – SARS was a shock for Hong Kong. But it changed people’s view of life and the city took a turn for the better” says Father Gianni Criveller, PIME mission in Hong Kong hours after the special administrated region of China, former British colony, was removed from the danger list of countries affected by Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome.
Father Criveller explains: “Despite the tragedy of 300 deaths and heavy economic losses suffered by the territory because of SARS, there was providential vision, something good has definitely emerged. During the epidemic, the people of Hong Kong for whom making money is the primary objective, experienced their human limits, when science, politics, money can do nothing. SARS led many people to reflect more deeply on the spiritual, the meaning of life. Family ties, friendships and interpersonal relations took on a new importance; many people looked at their relationship with God. The national heroes of this experience were not the finance wizard businessmen, the politicians or the film stars who usually fill the newspapers. No, their place was taken by the eight doctors who gave their lives to save the life of others. I am glad to have had the opportunity of living this experience, the tragedy of the past three months here in HK.”
Speaking with Fides Service Father Criveller says two feelings are dominant: “On the one hand relief for newly found freedom: no more masks in schools, on the streets, in church. But on the other concern for the plummeted economic situation. Unemployment has reached a record 8%, a very high percentage considering that Hong Kong was known as a place where jobs were easy to find. SARS caused serious problems for a city which relies on tourism, business, trading.” Announcing the end of the crisis the local authorities used no triumphant terms. They voiced concern for the need to find ways to re-launch the economy, attract tourists, encourage business. Tourism is a pillar of Hong Kong’s economy. At a press conference the Tourism Development Department announced measures to encourage activity including a Welcome Month this September.
Father Criveller recalls the local Church’s commitment in the face of the SARS crisis: “The Church’s pastoral work was not suspended, we merely took the necessary precautions. The Catholic community was very active: special collections in aid of the victims were made, information and awareness building, campaigns were organised, priests continued regular hospital assistance to comfort the sick. Caritas increased its services. One of the eight doctors remembered with gratitude was a Catholic. Dr Thomas Cheung Sik-hin a member of Saint Teresa parish, who was also vice-president of the Medical Association. Among the eight there was another Christian, 35 year old Dr Tse Yeun-man, who volunteer to care for SARS patients. Tse was a member of a local non-denominational Praise Assembly church. The memory of these people will always be part of the territory’s history”.
In the meantime also for mainland China there is good news. On 24 June, 3pm local time, Dr Shigeru Omi, regional director of the World Health Organisation (WHO) announced that WHO had decided to remove Beijing from the list of infection danger zones. The decision, welcomed by all, was taken after it was ascertained that the city met four conditions: less than 60 patients in hospital; less than 5 new cases in three consecutive days; all patients in affected areas under control; contagion not exported in border areas. NZ, PA (Fides Service 24/6/2003 EM lines 50 Words: 657)