To win the epidemic with firm determination
23 August 2020
The epidemic in Hong Kong has yet to show a stable downward trend despite the recent drop in confirmed cases to double digits compared to over a hundred a fortnight ago. As suggested by the continued large proportion of cases with an unknown source, there remain invisible transmission chains which pose a threat to public health in the community. Once again, I would like to call on everyone to maintain high vigilance, exercise persistence and patience, put health before anything else and not let the guard down.
“Suppress and lift” approach in anti-epidemic work
The Government is well aware that the stringent preventive measures have caused inconvenience to daily lives and struck an unprecedented blow at businesses. But with the coming week being a critical one, we ask for the understanding and patience of all citizens. Nonetheless, we are mindful of the need to maintain flexibility in response to the volatile epidemic situation. In light of development, we will adopt a “suppress and lift” approach, in particular for social distancing measures.
The Government will closely observe whether the emerging downward trend in the number of confirmed cases will continue and take various follow-up actions. These will include completing the virus tests and follow-up work for the clusters involving the container terminal and foreign domestic helper dormitories, reviewing the test results of the expanded targeted groups, discussing with the relevant sectors arrangements for resumption of business in an orderly manner and preparing for the launch of the large-scale Universal Community Testing Programme (UCTP) to provide voluntary virus tests for all citizens.
UCTP to be launched next month
To achieve early identification, early isolation and early treatment, the Government will launch the UCTP on September 1 to provide a one-off free testing service for members of the public with a target for completion within two weeks.
Community testing centres will be set up in all districts across the territory to collect the combined nasal and throat swabs of participants for laboratory testing. Members of the public can make an appointment online by providing their personal particulars (including name, Hong Kong Identity Card number and local mobile phone number) and choosing the testing location and time slot. People whose test results are negative will be informed by SMS. If a test result is positive, the Department of Health will take follow-up action immediately. Healthcare staff will be stationed at each testing centre, and the personnel responsible for taking specimens will be well trained and provided with adequate protective equipment.
Laboratory testing and surveillance are important elements in the Government’s anti-epidemic work. The higher the number of participants, the lesser time it will take to identify more asymptomatic patients in the community. This will contribute to breaking the virus transmission chain in the community and hence early containment of the epidemic, thereby enabling our economy and society to get back on track. Again, I appeal to all citizens to take heed of the Government’s anti-epidemic strategy by participating in the UCTP for the sake of their health and that of their families.
I would like to reiterate that the UCTP will only do testing on the COVID-19 virus. All testing will be conducted in Hong Kong, while specimens will not be transported outside Hong Kong and will be destroyed after testing. Please rest assured that an individual’s privacy will be fully protected.
Testing capability enhanced with the Central Government’s support
The Central Government’s staunch support for laboratory testing has made it possible for us to launch the UCTP this September. Co-ordinated by the Central Government, the first batch of 10 members of the Mainland nucleic acid test support team arrived in early August to start the preparatory work of the temporary laboratories, while another 50 members of the team arrived last Friday to provide timely support for the impending UCTP. I am most thankful to the Central Government for proactively responding to the request of the HKSAR Government and substantially ramping up our virus testing capability.
By drawing on the anti-epidemic experience gained over the past eight months and continuously seeking improvements, we have strengthened our capability in such areas as virus testing, tracing of infection sources, quarantine facilities, treatment facilities, production of protective equipment and application of technology, and are thus more prepared to deal with future possible outbreaks.
Two-pronged strategy for vaccine procurement
Although an effective COVID-19 vaccine is yet to be available, it can be foreseen that global competition will be extremely keen. Mindful of the need to take early actions to reserve or procure potential vaccines for our population, the HKSAR Government has proactively followed up on the procurement work, including getting ready to participate in the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX) Facility co-led by the World Health Organization and several other international organisations. The COVAX would serve as a safety net to secure vaccines for about 20% of our population. Meanwhile, the Government will also pursue additional supplies through entering into Advance Purchase Agreements with individual vaccine developers.
Launching the third round of Anti-epidemic Fund (AEF)
We understand that the continued epidemic has presented unprecedented challenges to our economy and dealt a heavy blow to many businesses. The two rounds of AEF launched earlier have approved 73 measures so far with a total commitment of over $145 billion. As at the end of July, the AEF has received some 250 000 applications from enterprises or business operators and around 1.1 million applications from licence holders, premises affected by the social distancing measures and registered construction workers, benefitting over 3.6 million people. Besides, a total of 3.93 million citizens have registered for the CuMask+™ through the online registration system.
The Employment Support Scheme (ESS), one of the flagship projects launched under the second round of the AEF, will disburse a total of $81 billion wage subsidies in two tranches for eligible employers of various trades. The first tranche approved some $43.9 billion for 148 500 employers, covering a total committed headcount of paid employees of about 1.9 million, as well as the applications from 116 000 self-employed persons. The second tranche will invite applications starting August 31 for paying wages from September to November.
It is worth noting that the second tranche of the ESS is enhanced to benefit more employees aged 65 or above with Mandatory Provident Fund accounts. In return for the wage subsidies received in the second tranche, big property management firms will need to share a sum of money equivalent to at least 80% of the subsidies with owners or owners’ corporations that engage their services, while the two major supermarket chains will have to offer cash coupons and/or more discounts to customers and non-governmental organisations.
The Government will soon launch a new round of the AEF. In order to iron out the details of the relief measures, I and other principal officials are soliciting views from various sectors, particularly those directly affected by the social distancing measures. Meanwhile, as many Legislative Councillors have showed much concern about this new round of measures, I will attend a special meeting of the Legislative Council’s House Committee this Friday (August 28) with relevant officials to gauge Members’ views and give an update on the Government’s overall efforts and relevant measures to combat the epidemic.
Concerted efforts of our world-class civil service
In the past eight months, colleagues from various departments have devoted relentless efforts in performing their respective roles by giving full play to their professionalism and team spirit, particularly when fighting the disease with healthcare staff and frontline officers. Once again, I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude to our colleagues for their endeavours in safeguarding public health in such unprecedented times. I am confident that with the collegiality and resilience of our civil service and the concerted efforts of the public, we will ultimately win out over the epidemic.
Our civil service is a distinguished team of high professionalism, which has always been committed to serving the community and maintaining the prosperity and stability of Hong Kong. The Government has high expectations of not only the performance and expertise of the civil servants, but also their conduct and behaviour.
All new recruits to the civil service will be considered for appointment on permanent terms upon satisfactory completion of the probation period. It has always been incumbent upon Heads of Department/Grade to apply stringent suitability standards as laid down in the Civil Service Regulations in assessing the performance and conduct of probationers to ensure that only those who are suitable in all respects are allowed to pass the probation bar.
Article 6 of the National Security Law for the HKSAR requires all public officers (including civil servants) to uphold the Basic Law and swear allegiance to the HKSAR. Civil servants must also be law-abiding, dedicated, impartial and politically neutral. These are what the general public expect of the civil service. The Government therefore adopts a zero-tolerance attitude towards civil servants who violate the law. On no account should civil servants engage in any conduct that may give rise to public suspicion, nor must they take part in any unlawful activities and actions.