Transcript of remarks of press conference (with photo/video)
Reporter: Mrs Lam, you've just announced about reintroducing work from home arrangement for civil servants. Could you explain why didn't the Government impose this arrangement earlier, at the very start of this new wave of outbreak? Could you explain this policy shift? And secondly, do you have any plans to cancel the exemption from the mandatory quarantine that the Government has given to certain groups of people arriving in Hong Kong, for example many people from the business sector? If not, what's the justification for leaving an obvious gap open in our infection control efforts? And thirdly, the Government has started providing tests for some high-risk people such as taxi drivers, but some experts have pointed out that an extensive testing like this will put enormous strain on our healthcare system when more and more people are diagnosed with the virus. Are you confident that our healthcare and quarantine facilities will be able to handle a potential surge of these new identified cases? Thank you.
Chief Executive: I will invite the Secretary for the Civil Service to address the first question about the civil service working from home. As far as the two other issues, I think we have just issued quite a lengthy press release to address the question of exemptions, because we realise that people have somehow put the blame on these exemption categories for the latest wave of COVID-19, which is not substantiated. The exemptions categories are related to the daily living of Hong Kong people and the continued economic activities in Hong Kong. The largest group of exempted category will be the truck drivers, for example. They have to continue to transport food, daily necessities from the Mainland to Hong Kong. The exempted category will be aircrew and seamen, who have to operate airplanes and cargo ships in order to bring the goods, and sometimes people, to and out of Hong Kong. The government operations cover not only the Hong Kong SAR Government but all the consular staff in Hong Kong. They have to come to change their consul-general, they have to replace and so on. There are a lot of essential activities that have to go on, even when the city is in the situation of being restricted. I think this is quite a prevalent practice in other jurisdictions. It is not quite right to say that this is a gap. This is deliberate, this is provided for under the ordinance.
As far as those for business, it's now down to a very, very modest scale, because it's mainly for going into the Mainland, but the Mainland has imposed a 14-day quarantine, so I do not realise there's a large number of people going into the Mainland on the basis of our exemption because there is another 14-day exemption, and that was the cause for all those discussions on the health code to facilitate this essential travel. For the time being this is not an issue because very few people are travelling under the Hong Kong SAR Government's exemptions because of the restrictions imposed by the other side. I hope this point is now clarified. All these exemptions are related to Hong Kong's economic activities to serve the people of Hong Kong.
As far as tests, I think the experts' view is about the so-called extensive testing of the whole population, the 7.5 million people, going through the test. I have not heard my experts telling me that it is not right to test the high-risk groups in order to find out, as early as possible, the infected cases so that they can be put under isolation and be treated and as a result do not spread this virus further in the community. To do an extensive population-wide test, which has been adopted in some other cities, to us at the moment is not very realistic because we just don't have that testing capacity. We need to prioritise the testing capacity that Hong Kong has. The approach that we have adopted - one is the tier one to tier eight, which are either cases going into hospitals or visiting private clinics, and the second will be the four high-risk categories. The third will be whenever there's a confirmed case, then we try to distribute as many specimen bottles as possible so that people in the vicinity could also be tested, both for the public health reason and also to address their concern.
Secretary for the Civil Service: As regards the working arrangement for civil servants, we have been monitoring the epidemic situation very closely. I think the experience in the past six months tells us that it is always a balance among three things. First is the epidemic situation. Second is the impact on economic activities and people’s livelihood. And the third is the public’s reaction.
As far as the Government is concerned, provision of public services of course is our priority, and the public have expected us to do so. So actually as early as last Sunday, because of the rising local cases, my bureau has already issued a reminder to all bureaux and departments reminding them to put in place and enforce rigorously all the prevention measures, infection control measures and social distancing measures in bureaux and departments, in order that we could provide public services as far as possible. Also, now we have sufficient supply of masks, protective equipment and also measures in the offices as regards the partitions and all that. That is why we continue with the provision of public services and at the same time we have already introduced staggered working hours and lunch hours, cancellations of large group meetings etc.
When the Government announced the tightening measures last week, the focus was on, because a lot of the local cases arise from social gatherings and eateries and all that, so you could see that our tightening measures focus on the no dining-in in the evening, and also the prohibition of activities at specified premises etc. Since then we have been very closely monitoring the situation and also the implementation of all these social distancing measures and infection control measures in bureaux and departments. On Thursday and Friday, we have also issued specific reminders to bureaux and departments. As we observe the trend, we of course note the increasing number of cases and the situation is actually very severe and that warrants further tightening up of measures. That is why we announce work from home arrangement for civil servants, meaning that the Government will not provide non-emergency and non-essential services with effect from tomorrow. Of course that will have an impact on the provision of services but I think that is the price that we have to pay at this juncture. So you can see that we monitor the situation closely, we introduce targeted measures as and when necessary. And if the situation warrants, we introduce the measures without any hesitation. Thank you very much.
Reporter: I’d like to ask if you would consider making the guidelines for nursing homes mandatory as they’re currently only a suggestion and it’s voluntary for nursing homes to take tests, it’s only voluntary for them. Would you consider making these guidelines compulsory? The second question is related to the AsiaWorld-Expo. You said you would make it into a quarantine facility if there are not enough. How long would it take to convert the AsiaWorld-Expo? And finally could you please elaborate on which type of spaces you consider as indoor public places? Does this mean that residents will have to also wear masks during, like, in their offices? Which kind of places exactly are indoor public places and who will be taking over the enforcement of that? Thank you.
Chief Executive: The first question about guidelines for elderly homes, I have to defer to Dr Law. As far as how long it will take for us to transform AWE (AsiaWorld-Expo), Secretary Chan, and Secretary Chan will also have to address your question about indoor public places.
Secretary for Labour and Welfare: The guidelines have been continuously monitored and also been revised from time to time. Our Social Welfare Department colleagues have been monitoring the situation very closely. We have, including residential care homes for the elderly and persons with disabilities, slightly over 1 000 homes. Our teams have been visiting them from time to time to ensure their compliance. If there is really a need and we see that compliance is an issue, then it may become necessary, but at the present moment we consider that the compliance and situation, overall speaking, are satisfactory. In particular, we know that the situation in private homes can be a concern, so we pay more visits to those homes to ensure their compliance.
Secretary for Food and Health: Thank you for your question. As far as the preparation for the AWE is concerned, the Chief Executive has earlier said there are two purposes. One is for decanting our elderly homes in case there will be more outbreaks. And second, it is for use by the Hospital Authority, some isolation facilities for the Hospital Authority. So we have already started looking into the AWE and check, for example, the air changes and also other facilities within the AWE. And we are also trying our best to put in the AWE, for example, the required furniture, such as beds. So those are almost ready and we hope the first of the halls should be ready to work at the end of next week.
Your second question is about to mandate people to wear mask in public indoor places. Colleagues are now working with DoJ very closely on writing the legislation and directions. But of course, there are already definitions of indoor places, for example, we have other bills that define what is an indoor place, and what is a public place. So again, there are existing definitions. So we will continue to work on it and try to issue it as soon as possible.
(Please also refer to the Chinese portion of the transcript.)
Ends/Sunday, July 19, 2020
Issued at HKT 21:01
Issued at HKT 21:01