As the COVID-19 started in January 2020, many young people in Hong Kong did not hesitate to take immediate action to help the public. One of those projects was a student-led initiative called HKCOVSA (Hong Kong Coronavirus Student Alliance), which was formed in February 2020.
“It initially started as a fundraiser for masks and also hand sanitizer for low-income people in Hong Kong and underprivileged elderly,” explains Rita Lim, a first-year biotechnology and finance student at The University of Hong Kong.
Rita started the project alongside her friend Rachel Cheung at the end of year 12 at local high school. Soon after their project got bigger, they recruited followers and volunteers and gradually transitioned into an English-media platform that provides information of the COVID-19 situation in Hong Kong, to the public. HKCOVSA is living proof that anyone, despite their age or profession can have a positive impact on society, especially in these trying times.
Since the start of the pandemic, Hong Kong has struggled to provide necessary medical equipment to its residents. According to The Society for Community Organisation (SoCO), around 70% of low-income families in Hong Kong could not afford to buy disinfectants or masks in February 2020. Over the following two years, HK leaders showed their willingness to contain the virus through the introduction of stringent coronavirus-related measures under the “zero-COVID” policy. Ending its three-month streak of no infection by the end of 2021, a government advisor David Hui Shu-cheong, announced on January 8, 2022 that Hong Kong has entered its fifth wave of pandemic. The string of confusing government policies led to an exodus of over 50,000 peoplein the first half of March and various other consequences.
Currently, there are only three main English media that people can use to learn about the rapidly changing government policies; the South China Morning Post, HKFP and The Standard. “A lot of local media can be very aggressive at times when they don’t necessarily need to be,” says Rita as to why the students felt the need to create HKCOVSA to fill in the gap in media coverage on the pandemic, with unbiased information.
HKCOVSA tries tochange the way people can access COVID-19 information. With a total of 4,095 followers on their Instagram account (@hkcovsa), the project leaders regularly publish daily updates and special posts.
“Usually they have press conferences during the afternoon time in Hong Kong so by the time I wake up I watch the rewind of the press conference and do the daily updates,” says Donald Chow, a Bachelor of Arts student at Newcastle University.
In fact, informing the public about daily takeaways from press conferences has been on top of the agenda for HKCOVSA members, who believe that English-news media often delay their news, as information is not being published immediately as it is done by local media. “We are here to organise a lot of information,” adds Rita.
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In addition to daily updates, other members like Rita and Rachel work on special posts providing the public with information on new restrictions, vaccination, quarantine and so on. “We create a lot of special posts to keep people informed about the situation and also to keep them entertained,” says Rita. To do that, students have also compiled information to create a comprehensive list of resources to help people navigate through the pandemic.
Benedicta Stefani, a 21-year old Indonesian student, uses their Instagram account on a regular basis to find information on vaccination and general “highlights”, which she finds very useful.
“I’d rather go to HKCOVSA because they constantly update on the pandemic, and I think that SCMP only uploads information when there’s big news like the one new restrictions,” she says.
For Rachel, a first-year medical student from The University of Hong Kong, this is essentially what HKCOVSA aims to be; a one-stop station for people to find all COVID-19 related information, given that a lot of media report on a huge variety of news in Hong Kong and relevant information might be hard to find. “For us having a focus on covid and health educational aspects, public health and social issues related to the pandemic are important,” she says.
All students agree that being part of the project gives them a sense of recognition and a place where they feel that they can contribute to the pandemic itself and give back to society. Others can link the project back to their studies by helping out the patients in a different way. “Scientific knowledge that is often difficult to interpret and having this educational background [medicine] and proficiency in English or in the Chinese language I am being able to help translate or make everything in more layman terms to the public,” says Rachel. With each student’s educational background they can make a unique contribution to the platform.
Rita hopes that in the future the platform can transition into a more scientific-educational platform to promote science education in Hong Kong. “I don’t want to waste what we have right now,” she adds.