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  • City is ranked No 19, behind Singapore and Beijing, in global list topped by Zurich, Oslo and Canberra
  • Pandemic saw increased reliance on tech and residents learned to use smartphones in critical new ways

Hong Kong leapt into the Top 20 of a global list of smart cities, thanks mainly to the increased use of technology in healthcare during the coronavirus pandemic.

It ranked 19th in the Smart City Index 2023 released this month by Swiss business school Institute for Management Development, rising from the 33rd spot the last time the list was drawn up in 2021.

While the shift to digital-based healthcare services was a big plus for the city, the greater use of technology also created a gap among residents, especially the elderly and low-income families finding it hard to afford new devices and access the internet.

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Zurich, Oslo and Canberra were the top three smart cities among 141 ranked worldwide. Singapore, in seventh, was Asia's smartest city and Beijing was 12th.

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The index is based on feedback from 20,000 people across all the cities who were asked about the impact of technology on 15 aspects, including affordable housing, healthcare and employment, and their level of comfort with tech issues such as facial recognition and the sharing of personal data.

The Covid-19 pandemic, with almost three years of lockdowns and strict social-distancing measures, forced Hong Kong and other cities to speed up their digitisation efforts. Residents had to quickly get accustomed to using smartphones for everything, including entering restricted premises and ordering food.

As the pandemic dragged on, with successive waves of infections in Hong Kong, telemedicine became increasingly common, allowing people to consult doctors online without leaving their homes.

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Hong Kong performed well in providing online access to job listings, medical services and free public Wi-fi and was among six cities found to have consistently improved their performance since 2019.

It ranked above the mean in most areas, with top ratings for basic sanitation in the poorest neighbourhoods, employment services and traffic congestion information via mobile phone. However, affordable housing, medical services, resident engagement, recycling facilities and air pollution remained pressing concerns.

It saw marked improvements in its scores for accessibility to medical services and arranging online medical appointments.

Raymond Janse van Rensburg, vice-president for Systems Engineering in Asia-Pacific at Cisco, said the pandemic injected an urgency to develop smart cities through digital transformation.

A keynote speaker at the Digital Economy Summit held in Hong Kong earlier this month, he said it was fundamental for a smart city to secure a connection between residents and the services meant to improve their experience.

A spokesman for the Innovation, Technology and Industry Bureau said the efforts and contributions of various industries over the years had laid a solid foundation for developing a smart city in Hong Kong.

The city rolled out the smart city blueprint 2.0 in 2020, outlining more than 130 initiatives in six areas - mobility, living, environment, people, government and economy - addressing city management challenges and ways to improve livelihoods through innovation and technology.

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Francis Fong Po-kiu, honorary president of the Hong Kong Information Technology Federation, said residents were able to rely on technology more during the pandemic to connect with people, businesses and services.

"Food delivery and other e-commerce platforms have become a new trend. Even elderly people at care homes need smart devices to connect with their loved ones. But the authorities need to think about how to make a smart city beneficial to people from all walks of life," he said.

Dennis Au Cheuk-wing, 41, a registered traditional Chinese medicine practitioner who offered telemedicine services during the pandemic, said older people struggled to get used to the change.

"Elderly patients definitely needed help from younger family members to access telemedicine, but many of my patients have continued consulting me online to save time," he said.

Retired tailor Liu Hon-wah, 75, found that having to start using a smartphone for the first time was a drastic change. He finally got one in 2022 when he needed to show his vaccine pass to enter clinics and restaurants.

He found it impossible to use the Hospital Authority's "HA Go" application to book appointments for general outpatient services and pay bills. Finding the right icons on his smartphone was just too hard, he grumbled.

"I have thrown tantrums several times in restaurants because I don't know how to scan a QR code to order food. It would be easier just speaking to the waiter," he said. "My son always has to help me to fill in the online health declaration before I go to mainland China."

Secondary school English-language teacher Michelle Chan Yuk-fan said the pandemic increased the use of smart devices and technology when schools were closed for several periods and lessons were conducted online for children staying home.

"Their parents also adapted from not knowing anything about video conferencing to attending a virtual parents' day," said Chan.

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But children from low-income families found it hard to catch up.

Zhang Yuan-feng, 32, living in a tiny subdivided flat in Sham Shui Po with her construction worker husband and their eight-year-old son, recalled that she could not afford a tablet computer for the boy to attend virtual classes and subscribe to an internet service.

Her husband earned HK$21,000 (US$2,675) a month, and they had to pay HK$6,200 rent for their 150 sq ft space, plus HK$1,500 for utilities every month.

"The first three months when classes were suspended, my son just used my phone to attend classes at home. The school later lent us a tablet and a pocket Wi-fi device as the free internet service is not available everywhere," she said.

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The government's Quality Education Fund set aside HK$1.5 billion in 2021 for a three-year programme to lend devices and internet access facilities to poor students, potentially benefiting 310,000 pupils over three years.

Gary Ng Cheuk-yan, a senior economist for Asia-Pacific at Natixis Corporate and Investment Bank, said the pandemic was a catalyst for the city's digital transformation but the government had to build trust with residents.

"Individuals and corporations can improve efficiency with faster tech adoption in government services," he said. "Still, adopting technology will also bring a trade-off between data and privacy, which heavily hinges on whether residents trust the government."


Autor(en)/Author(s): Oscar Liu

Quelle/Source: msn, 30.04.2023

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