Transcript of remarks by CE at media session before ExCo (with video)

     Following is the transcript of remarks by the Chief Executive, Mr John Lee, at a media session before the Executive Council meeting today (July 12):
Reporter: Good morning Mr Lee. First, even with a shortened quarantine, do you think business people or tourists will visit, show vaccination proof, spend thousands on a hotel and undergo, you know, a dozen RAT (rapid antigen tests) tests or PCR (polymerase chain reaction-based nucleic acid) tests to attend meetings or do business? Is it compatible with Xi Jinping's instruction to maintain Hong Kong's status when, you know, Singapore is already fully open? Also, you just warned against stirring trouble when it comes to the idea of the health code being used for political purposes. But of course, we've seen this in Henan Province, and the Government has already, you know, said a couple of years ago they would not enact a health code, so how can you reassure Hong Kongers and rebuild trust over enacting this policy?
Chief Executive: Well, first of all, every government, of course, has to design  their COVID control measures according to their own circumstances. We have our own circumstances, because we have a high proportion of elderly people. Our living conditions are relatively very dense, which are all factors that point to the higher risk of spreading the COVID virus. That's the first thing.
     The second thing is, from our experience in the fifth wave of the COVID attack, we know that the safety margin that was set at that time probably will not be sufficient in view of the fast spreading of Omicron. What we need to do now is to balance these two risks. We have to ensure the safety of people who are facing a high risk such as the elderly, the very young such as children, and also people who suffer from long-term diseases, in which case their resistance to disease attack is weakened, and also people who are exposed to high risks such as people in the medical profession. We have to balance the risks so that we do not have an escalating rate of infected persons that will, first of all, overwhelm our medical system, the hospital system, and secondly, the people who are facing high risks are sufficiently protected.
     What we are trying to do is to be scientific and precise in our actions, so that on the one hand, we can protect people who face such high risks, and at the same time, we allow people to come in and out of Hong Kong more easily and more conveniently. That is what we are doing. That is why we are trying to reduce the number of days that a person will have to be isolated in a hotel or quarantined in a hotel, so that they can then go about their normal activities. It is a balancing act which is not easy but has to be taken into consideration based on actual circumstances. That's the first thing.
     The second thing is the health code, which is being introduced, is only to target two types of people. And they are very specific and (involve only) a small number (of people). First of all, the red code is intended to identify people who have been infected and they should not be going around to spread the virus. The second group is also very small and well defined, which is people who are now being kept in a quarantine hotel. We introduce this yellow code for them when we design measures to allow them to have some limited activities, so that business can continue in a much normal way, and we need some identification method. That is the whole purpose of the red and yellow codes. In the long run, I think we have to be realistic of what kind of risks we may be facing.
     First of all, we can see the daily figure escalating. Already now it averages at about 3 000 and the trend indicates that the figures will go up very quickly as well. The hospitalisation rate has already gone up at least by double, from 300-something to 900-something within one and a half months. We have to face this reality, that is why we are thinking of designing methods that will be able to allow us to react more quickly, to respond more precisely, and at the same time, allow more people to be not so restrictive in their activities so that normal business can go about, and the economy can go about in a much relaxed way. That's the purpose of what we are doing.
     But of course, we will listen to views and we will also try to reduce the inconvenience to people. Also, we'll make sure that we'll well explain the scope and the method so that people understand why we do it, what benefits they gain, and what are the concerns that they do not have to really bother because there may be some misinformation which we will need to address very quickly so that everybody knows what we are doing.
(Please also refer to the Chinese portion of the transcript.)

Ends/Tuesday, July 12, 2022
Issued at HKT 13:06