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Andy Mukherjee

Hong Kong Could Turn Covid Zero Into Money

To show its commitment to the restrictive policy, the city should consider paying people to take rapid antigen tests.  

This city needs to get its groove back.

This city needs to get its groove back.

Photographer: Lam Yik/Bloomberg

Hong Kong is stuck. Without Beijing’s permission, the city can’t call off its draconian anti-pandemic campaign even though it’s a drag on the economy. The world outside of China has downgraded the disease to a more infectious flu. But even if Hong Kong must stick with Covid Zero to keep its policies aligned with the mainland’s, surely a tech-savvy financial center could do a better job of it, getting a head start on a new digital currency in the process?

To that end, I propose turning the ubiquitous rapid antigen test, or RAT, into money. Proof of health, as measured by a single red line on a small, thin, plastic stick, is crying for elevation to the status of cash. Yes, this is a joke. But more than that, it’s a desperate plea to authorities to return Hong Kong to normal by scrapping polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, tests at government facilities, and by doing away with tracking bracelets, masks, surveillance orders and other irritants. It could perhaps even act as a laboratory of sorts for mainland China, as President Xi Jinping seeks to pivot away from costly lockdowns and global isolation.