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 (ExCo) meeting today (September 13):

Reporter: Good morning Mr Lee. Do you agree with the respiratory experts' view that the daily COVID caseload has already peaked last week? Is Hong Kong ready for further opening up? Or do you think that the social distancing or quarantine measures should be tightened as you have said in your opening remarks, and how would you respond to some respiratory experts that they were upset about the black and white rules that require them to avoid sharing opinions that are conflicting to the Government policy? And second, since Shenzhen has cut the quarantine hotel quota for Hong Kong, while the "reverse quarantine" arrangement has yet to be implemented, do you agree that the situation is even worse than before? And how would you help the business travellers and families who need to cross the border? Thank you.
Chief Executive: In regard to the COVID situation, the number of cases in the last few weeks ranged between 8 000 and 11 000. It came down to about 8 000 yesterday, but since we just passed the Mid-Autumn Festival, we have to monitor the situation. I have explained time and again that the Government measures to be taken against the epidemic take into consideration of two very important factors. First, to ensure that our hospital service will remain functional. We can cope with the rising number of cases because with a rising number of cases, there will be a rising number of hospitalisation.
     The second thing we need to take into consideration is protection of those in need. These people in need include the very young and the elderly, who are in high risk groups, plus people who have chronic diseases. Any measures that this Government takes, while (we are) very conscious of the need of society returning to normal activities and allowing the economy to develop, plus ensuring Hong Kong's competitiveness, the Government cannot turn a blind eye to these two worrying facts that the Hospital Authority has already cut 30 per cent of its service in order to deal with the COVID epidemic. And also, the high risk groups are under real threat to their health and life because the vaccination rate for these high risk groups is still unsatisfactory. So while we are very conscious of ensuring that society can go back to day-to-day life as freely as possible, economy to grow, and competitiveness to be ensured, we have to balance the needs with the risks. We will be monitoring the situation very closely and looking at the data. But what is important is that vaccination helps a lot, not just protecting one's health and life, but also helping a lot in ensuring the whole society can be protected from the attack.
     So vaccination is a "must go" for everybody, is a "must happen" for everybody, is a "must do" for everybody. Not just for himself, herself, but for society as a whole. Vaccination is important because people should not just think that COVID is a normal flu. If you look at our figures, we have lost 9 000 lives just because of Omicron while every year we lost about 300 lives because of flu; the death rate for flu is 0.1 per cent, but for Omicron, it's 0.6 per cent, that means six times more risky. And there are also the problem of long COVID symptoms, which include loss of memory, loss of concentration, and also attack of nervous system for children, it may also result in organ damages. So it is important for everybody to know that vaccination is the best protection for everybody. When vaccination rate reaches a high level for all age groups, then there will be a lot more freedom and liberty for us to consider. That's important.
     As regards our discussion with experts in the expert panel (COVID-19 Expert Advisory Panel), we welcome, of course, different opinions and we always exchange views freely. But we also want to inform the public of decisions that the Government made, clearly and precisely, so that there will be no mixed messages and people will not be confused with what the Government wants to do and the rationality behind the Government's decisions. Similarly, for anything that is discussed in the Government, whether between myself and my team, we of course have an open and frank discussion to look at the pros and cons, and then we make a decision. As we make the decision, the Government will announce the decision in clear and precise messages, so that the Government's communication with society achieves the purpose of informing them correctly, clearly and understandably, without mixing of messages.
     As regards Shenzhen reducing the number of the quota for Hong Kong (people) to go to Shenzhen, this is, as I know, as a result of the (epidemic) situation in Shenzhen and the need to ensure that they can control their situation within their assessment. What I intend to do, as I've explained, is to create a system which, in the long run, however the situation of the pandemic develops on either side of the boundary, can continue to ensure that it will proceed without big changes. That is why we have suggested implementing the concept of "reverse quarantine" or "pre-quarantine". This is, as you know, in progress, and the Chief Secretary for Administration has been in communication with the Mayor of Shenzhen. There are a lot of challenges, of course, to overcome, but I think through communication, eventually, we will be able to achieve some sort of arrangement. The standard, of course, will have to be endorsed by the Shenzhen authorities because they are the authorities who will be exempting the "7+3" requirement after a person has fulfilled his "reverse quarantine" requirement in Hong Kong. So I'm aiming at creating a system which will continue to operate, however the situation develops on either side of the boundary, and we are working hard towards that goal.
(Please also refer to the Chinese portion of the transcript.)

Ends/Tuesday, September 13, 2022
Issued at HKT 13:35