Transcript of remarks of press conference on arrangements of resumption of normal travel with Mainland (with video)

     The Chief Executive, Mr John Lee, held a press conference on the arrangements of the resumption of normal travel with the Mainland. Also joining were the Chief Secretary for Administration, Mr Chan Kwok-ki; the Secretary for Security, Mr Tang Ping-keung; the Secretary for Health, Professor Lo Chung-mau; the Secretary for Transport and Logistics, Mr Lam Sai-hung; and the Acting Government Chief Information Officer, Mr Tony Wong. Following is the transcript of remarks of the press conference:
Reporter: Why did authorities think 60 000 is an adequate quota? Are there any factors that you have considered when setting this up? And will this cap be increased gradually and even scrapped in the end? And the second question, are you worried the number of COVID cases in Hong Kong will increase after the resumption of quarantine-free travel with the Mainland, given that there are still 10 000 to 20 000 cases every day? Can our medical system cope with this? Thank you.
Chief Executive: First of all, in deciding the number that we think we can manage in a very orderly and safe manner at land crossings, we took into consideration several factors which include the geographical layout of the crossing area, which, of course, will have a bearing on the number of people that can pass through safely and in an orderly way. The second thing is we want to ensure that it will be done step by step so that we can very safely look at the actual arrangement, because we want things to proceed under our control. And that is the common understanding of both the Hong Kong Government and the Mainland authorities.
     My personal inclination is, if factors permit, I want to allow a large number of people to go through because that has been the voice of a lot of people, both locally and overseas, wishing Hong Kong to proceed to normalcy as quickly as possible. I have been hearing this voice since my assumption of duty, and that is why all the strategies and measures that have been planned and implemented are towards the goal of normalisation and normalcy. So, this is the first step. When will I take the next step? Of course, I will have to seek the endorsement of my counterparts because "crossing", as it means, is about crossing the boundaries between the two places, so agreement has to be sought. But the common purpose is very obvious, that both sides want normalcy to happen in an orderly manner and as fast as possible. After this 60 000 number, which is set for consideration on crowd management, I wish to proceed to the next stage, but that will have to be done as we monitor the situation upon the normal resumption that takes place on January 8.
     As to the number of crossing points that will be allowed to operate, I have explained in Chinese that we will, of course, look at this 60 000 number of people to see how many crossing points we should open, so that we will be able to handle this number of people, also to the convenience of the travellers.
     And you asked when I will scrap all the measures. As I've explained, the return to normalcy is the wish and wants of a lot of people, both locally and overseas. So I would in due course, depending on the time at some point, wish to lift all the restrictions. But that has to be decided as we progress so that things will happen in an orderly way and safely and, at the same time, be under our control regarding the risk concerning COVID.
     Will the medical system cope? I will later hand over to Professor Lo, but I have explained it many times. The strategy now is to focus on ensuring that we can control the number of serious cases and death cases, and at the same time raising the awareness of the people to protect themselves through vaccination and through safety and health advice. I have explained many times, and I think there's general consensus that people in Hong Kong generally know how to take care of themselves after three years of COVID experience. Even though we have a high number of cases recently, we have already, apparently, passed the top of this wave. That means the medical service has been able to cope, even when this wave has reached its climax. It gives me the confidence that they will be able to continue to run the medical service, the public health service, efficiently and effectively. I thank each one of them sincerely for their commitment, devotion and professionalism. That is exactly the reason why I'm so confident that they will be able to ensure that the risk is well managed. I would like to pass over to Professor Lo to see whether he has anything to supplement.
Secretary for Health: Thank you, Chief Executive. Hong Kong has always enjoyed a very high standard in healthcare service which is actually provided by dual track system. We have the public healthcare system as well as the private service. Over the past three years and during this pandemic, we have been increasing the resilience of our healthcare service in combating COVID-19. As compared to early part of 2022 when we get into the huge tsunami of the COVID-19 cases, we have serious disruption of the healthcare services. But over the last few months, despite the surge in case number especially recently with the peak at almost 30 000 COVID-19 positive cases, our public healthcare system has been coping very well with the services even though we are under pressure in this winter surge. Our staff and colleagues have been working very hard to sustain the healthcare service which is also contributed by the collaboration by our private sector and healthcare workers as well. I would say that we have learnt from previous experience and our healthcare system with the collaboration from both the private and public services is now ready to cope with the service demand. With the boundary open, I must emphasis that during the COVID-19 pandemic, quite a large number of Hong Kong citizens were not able to return to Hong Kong for medical services. The SAR (Special Administrative Region) Government has actually tried to collaborate with for example the Hong Kong University - Shenzhen Hospital to provide services for these Hong Kong citizens. With the boundary open, we welcome some of these Hong Kong citizens back because it is our public healthcare system's duty to take care of them. But we would like to take the opportunity to continue the mode of cross-boundary healthcare service. We would be exploring more of these cross-boundary services so as to provide more convenient and efficient services for them even if they are staying in the Greater Bay Area. This certainly provides an opportunity for us for cross-boundary healthcare service collaboration.
     For those who are non-eligible person, i.e. the visitors from overseas or from the Mainland, as usual and in the past, the majority of healthcare service for these people are provided on the fee-for-service basis by our private sector colleagues and this will be continue to be so. Only the very exceptional emergency ones and some which have really need to be provided at the public service sector will be done at the public hospitals. So the majority of these will be on the fee-for-service basis in our private sector. Thank you.
Chief Executive: I would like to add one important point, that is the risk control is done by the 48-hour PCR (polymerase chain reaction-based nucleic acid) test. That is, I think, a very key control measure to ensure that those who are already infected will not be able to come. I just want to remind each one of you of this important control measure.

(Please also refer to the Chinese portion of the transcript.)

Ends/Thursday, January 5, 2023
Issued at HKT 20:22