All-out efforts to combat epidemic
Back to basics Safeguard national security
6 December 2020
The number of COVID-19 confirmed cases in Hong Kong has remained high over the past few days with a stubbornly large proportion of cases from unknown sources of infection, indicating that the disease is now widespread in the community. To contain the epidemic, the Government has put in place highly stringent social distancing measures by further tightening the requirements on group gatherings to reduce people flow and social contact. Such measures call for public understanding and co-operation. The Government will make all necessary arrangements having regard to the epidemic situation and does not rule out the escalation of control measures or other possibilities.
Raising penalties to enhance deterrent effect
Faced with the epidemic surge, apart from tightening various infection control measures, the Government needs to increase penalties in order to create the necessary deterrent effect and ensure strict compliance with relevant requirements. Last Friday, the Government announced the amendments of the subsidiary legislation under the Prevention and Control of Disease Ordinance (Cap. 599), which will take effect from this Friday (December 11), with an aim to increase the penalties for breaching requirements under the relevant regulations. For instance, the fixed penalty for participating in prohibited group gatherings, not wearing mask or failing to comply with a requirement of a compulsory testing direction/notice will be raised substantially from $2,000 to $5,000. In tandem with the increase in fixed penalties, the maximum penalty upon conviction for the related offences will be increased accordingly1. The Government will step up its efforts in promotion, inspection and law enforcement, and may consider raising the penalties further if compliance is not satisfactory.
Stepping up testing to curb transmission
Virus testing is an integral part of our epidemic control strategy. In this connection, the Government has adopted a three-pronged approach by requiring infection clusters or high-risk persons to undergo compulsory testing on a mandatory basis, arranging targeted groups to undergo testing on an obligatory basis, and encouraging the general public to receive testing on a voluntary basis to allay their worries.
- Compulsory testing on a mandatory basis The Government has repeatedly invoked the Prevention and Control of Disease (Compulsory Testing for Certain Persons) Regulation (Cap. 599J) since November 21 to require persons who have visited any of the 34 designated places to undergo compulsory testing, and extend the compulsory testing requirement to symptomatic persons as well as staff of residential care homes for the elderly and the disabled, nursing homes and day service units attached. Taxi drivers will also be required to undergo testing shortly. Any person who fails to comply with the compulsory testing notice commits an offence. As at December 4, over 5 600 persons have complied with the notice by undertaking the required testing and notifying the Government of their results, and 122 preliminary positive cases have been detected through the Community Testing Centres (CTCs), demonstrating the effectiveness of compulsory testing.
- Testing on an obligatory basis Since the launch of the Targeted Group Testing Scheme (TGTS) in mid-July, a total of over 800 000 specimens from around 70 groups have been collected for COVID-19 nucleic acid test, among which some 120 cases are confirmed positive by the Centre for Health Protection of the Department of Health. With reference to risk assessment, a daily average of around 7 000 specimens were tested under the TGTS in November, which covered the ongoing targeted group testing2 and the testing conducted at temporary testing centres (e.g. mobile specimen collection stations set up in Tsuen Wan, Tai Po, Kowloon City and Wong Tai Sin). The Government will regularly review the coverage and frequency of the TGTS based on the latest epidemic risk assessment.
- Testing on a voluntary basis The Government announced last week that five additional CTCs will commence service next week. There will then be a total of 14 CTCs across the territory providing COVID-19 testing service for the public. These five centres will operate for an initial period of three months, which may be extended for another three months depending on the situation. As at December 4, the CTCs have provided testing service to over 110 000 persons since their opening on November 15.
Extending testing service at mobile specimen collection stations
As at December 2, the Government provided free nucleic acid testing service to more than 30 700 persons through eight mobile specimen collection stations and specimen bottle distribution points in Tsuen Wan, Sai Kung, Tai Po and Kowloon City.
Increasing the number of distribution points and specimen collection packs for convenience of the public
To facilitate voluntary testing, the Government has extended the distribution points for deep throat saliva specimen collection packs to 121 post offices across the territory. The number of specimen collection packs distributed by the post offices has increased from 5 000 to 8 000 per day, while that distributed by 47 general out-patient clinics of the Hospital Authority (HA) has increased from 4 000 to 8 000 per day. Arrangement is being made for the public to obtain the specimen collection packs at designated major MTR stations so that they can self-collect their specimen and return it to designated locations for virus testing. We will further increase the number of specimen collection packs to be distributed at various distribution points next week.
Reactivating community quarantine and treatment facilities
Currently, there are 1 800 quarantine units at phases 1, 2 and 4 of Penny’s Bay Quarantine Centre (PBQC). Together with the re-opening of three quarantine facilities, namely the Junior Police Call Permanent Activity Centre at Pat Heung, Lei Yue Mun Park and Holiday Camp and Sai Kung Outdoor Recreation Centre, which were previously closed as backup, there are now a total of about 2 500 quarantine units.
The existing quarantine centres are reaching their maximum capacity owing to the recent severe epidemic situation. The Government has therefore engaged three hotels to provide about 1 000 quarantine units, bringing the quarantine capacity to a total of 3 500 units. In addition, the quarantine facilities at phase 3 of the PBQC with 1 700 quarantine units have been completed for use in batches starting from this week.
The HA’s community treatment facility (CTF) at the AsiaWorld-Expo (AWE) has also been reactivated, admitting patients who are in relatively stable condition and able to take care of themselves independently. The CTF will also admit patients who have preliminarily tested positive. These patients can wait onsite at the CTF for test results, and those confirmed with COVID-19 infection will be triaged for treatment according to their clinical conditions. The CTF at the AWE, including the earlier expansion with the support of the Central Government, covers six halls, providing a total of around 1 900 beds. Among these halls, four have commenced operation while two are ready for commissioning. The HA will closely monitor the development of the epidemic and open the remaining halls as and when necessary.
Resolving problems at root and restoring order from chaos
To mark the Constitution Day, the HKSAR Government held an online seminar two days ago (December 4) under the theme of “The Constitution and National Security” to analyse the important concept of national security, explore the relationship between the Constitution and the Law of the People’s Republic of China on Safeguarding National Security in the HKSAR (National Security Law) and national security, as well as examine the importance of the Constitution and the National Security Law in safeguarding the country’s sovereignty, security and development interests.
It has been over 23 years since Hong Kong returned to Chinese sovereignty. Yet many Hong Kong people do not know much about the relationship between the Constitution of our nation and the Basic Law of the HKSAR, nor do they recognise the importance of the Constitution to Hong Kong. Some should indeed have their awareness of “one country” heightened. It is therefore a key priority for the Government to restore Hong Kong’s constitutional order and political system from chaos and to clarify and dispel some people’s misunderstanding of “One Country, Two Systems”. To this end, it is of paramount importance to strengthen the promotion and education of the Constitution and the Basic Law.
Proper understanding of the “root” and “origin”
As the fundamental and supreme law of the state, the Constitution has the highest legal status and authority with legal effect over the entire territory of our country, including the HKSAR which was established in accordance with Article 31 of the Constitution. It is the Constitution that forms the basis for the successful implementation of “One Country, Two Systems”, “Hong Kong people administering Hong Kong” and a high degree of autonomy in Hong Kong after its return to the motherland.
Looking at “One Country, Two Systems” from the perspective of national constitutional regime, one will come to realise that the Constitution not only serves as the constitutional foundation of “one country”, but also provides the legal basis and protection for building “two systems”. It gives the legislative backing and source of power for the Basic Law, playing a key and fundamental role in maintaining our long-term prosperity and stability. “One country” is the prerequisite and cornerstone on which “two systems” are implemented. To construe the Basic Law without reference to the Constitution and to develop “two systems” with no regard to “one country” is tantamount to missing out the root and origin. The logic behind this “root” and “origin” should in no way be distorted by people with ulterior motives attempting to confuse and mislead the public.
I wish to emphasise that it is the collective responsibility of the whole Hong Kong community to enhance the awareness of the Constitution and the Basic Law, act in accordance with them and firmly uphold their authority. Each and every one of us should respect and abide by the Constitution and the Basic Law with an obligation to gain an in-depth and proper understanding and comprehension of these two constitutional documents. It is also imperative for us to accurately grasp the relationship between “one country” and “two systems”, earnestly safeguard national sovereignty, security and development interests, and effectively preserve Hong Kong’s prosperity and stability and the well-being of all Hong Kong people.
Safeguarding national security
Since implementation, the National Security Law has served as the “pillar of the ocean”, getting Hong Kong’s law and order back on track and obviously restoring social stability. Apart from taking law enforcement action, the HKSAR Government attaches great importance to preventing and suppressing acts endangering national security by sustaining efforts in publicity and education through various channels. In particular, national security education will be introduced in schools to help students develop a correct understanding of the National Security Law and enhance their sense of national security and law-abidingness, thereby nurturing them to become good nationals and citizens who have a sense of national identity, respect the rule of law and abide by the law to safeguard national security.