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Hong Kong

The ghosts of Hong Kong's past

Pestilence adds to the woes of a city riven by almost eight months of civil unrest

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The ghosts of Hong Kong's past

Members of staff and customers wear face masks at the counter of a MacDonald's in Hong Kong on Jan. 29  as a preventative measure following a coronavirus outbreak which began in the Chinese city of Wuhan. (Photo: Anthony WALLACE/AFP)

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Chinese New Year delivered Hong Kong a respite from the violent turmoil that has dominated city life for almost eight months but the lull will enable pro-democracy activists to plot a fresh, longer-term strategy heading into elections later this year.

Their problem is that strategy will be complicated by the outbreak of the coronavirus, a threat which could undermine the importance of the struggle for universal suffrage and relegate its prominence as a social issue.

Hong Kong’s plight bears remarkable similarities to the SARS virus of 2002-03 when the territory’s economy was battered by the Asian financial crisis, then again as trade diminished amid wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Faith in Beijing’s willingness to respect democratic guarantees, granted just a few years earlier when Hong Kong was returned to China, was as battered as the stock market and public anger was rising.

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