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 (January 10):
Reporter: Good morning, Mr Lee. Firstly, has the Government overestimated the economic benefits of the border reopening with the Mainland, given that in the past two days double the amount of people headed to Mainland China compared to those actually heading to Hong Kong? And also did the Government sort of expect this lukewarm response when it first proposed this border reopening? And on COVID-19, will the Government declare COVID-19 an endemic disease like they have done in Macao, and whether they would consider lifting restrictions such as the isolation order for positive patients?
Chief Executive: I think the economic benefits will come positively. It is the beginning of the new reopening of the boundary. Then of course, people need to make plans to satisfy their own requirements. There is a period for adjustment. The second thing is, this is a period which is coming to the Lunar New Year. We all know that it is Chinese tradition for families to get together for reunion during the Lunar New Year, so people make the arrangement for that purpose, which is an obvious thing to a lot of us. Other activities will follow, these include tourism, exhibitions, retail, and also catering services. As the number of people going both ways, we will see all these activities coming back very quickly. At the early stage, when things are being observed by a lot of people, then of course they will make their own plans.
     The second thing is we have assessed the suitable number for people to make appointments so as to ensure that the passage at the boundary crossing points are orderly, safe and smooth. We have actually made a safety margin for all these arrangements and it shows that this safety margin is appropriately set. Also, we know very well that people are planning their trips so as to ensure that they will be arranging it for the Lunar New Year celebration. And after this, I'm sure that things will get to the normal condition, and the activities as I have described will then come in. The third thing is a lot of visitors from the Mainland need to have the right endorsement for them to come. The process of endorsements has just started. As the process of endorsements gain in speed and in volume, there will be a lot of people coming to Hong Kong.
     And the other point I would like to make is we are not looking at just one or two single days. We are obviously looking at the reopening of the boundary crossing in the long run. And obviously this has been the desire and the wants of a lot of people not just to satisfy family reunion, but to ensure that the normal businesses, the normal activities, can go about. As I have explained in my opening remarks, this normal travel between the two places will not just ensure that the activities between the two places can resume. It also means that our international connectivity will increase as well, as overseas visitors can also come into Hong Kong to make their way into the Mainland and vice versa. So a lot of good news will happen and in fact, the Government is planning to do a big promotion exercise starting in February because I think in particular tourism will start to come back in February. So it is Hong Kong government's plan to launch a big promotion for attracting tourism and attracting businesses to Hong Kong. And we'll be working with the tourism sector and also the business sector to make promotion in that regard.
     As to our COVID control measures, we'll be monitoring the situation closely. We will make our decision based on the data and the actual situation of Hong Kong, which means that we will look at the number of cases that become serious or fatal, and also monitor the overall situation of the public hospital services. These are the critical factors that I will take into consideration in considering what measures we will take. I have to also remind people here that the World Health Organization has not changed its classification of COVID-19. So we will also be watching for the possibilities of variants development but so far the statistics and the data indicated that these factors are well under control. That is why I think we can allow the resumption of cross-boundary travel to progress in the way it is planned, and it is being done in a controlled and safe manner. As regard to when we will consider lifting other measures, the data will be the deciding principle.
(Please also refer to the Chinese portion of the transcript.)

Ends/Tuesday, January 10, 2023
Issued at HKT 13:52