Persevering amidst adversities
Fighting the epidemic and achieving “zero infection”
Receiving vaccination in the New Year
3 January 2021
As a new year dawns, I wish all Hong Kong citizens good health and well-being, and the city success in combating the epidemic. I believe that we all share these wishes. Hard hit by COVID-19, our economy has entered recession and our society is faced with severe challenges. Adversities notwithstanding, we shall come through them by staying united in vigilance and perseverance to fight the epidemic.
Combating the epidemic a top priority
Combating the epidemic is not only the top priority for the society as a whole, but also the first and foremost task of the Government. As a continuous effort to enhance our anti-epidemic work, we will adopt all feasible measures to strengthen epidemic control by guarding against the importation of cases and the resurgence of domestic infections, and to further enhance the precision of the control measures to be taken. With the full support and co-operation of the general public, we will strive to achieve the target of “zero infection” as soon as possible.
Expanding the scope of “compulsory testing on a mandatory basis”
To cut the transmission chain in the community at the first opportunity, the Government decided to expand the scope of “compulsory testing on a mandatory basis” last week. If there are confirmed cases which are not epidemiologically linked to each other found in two or more units of the same building within the past two weeks, the Government will issue a compulsory testing notice to require any person who was present at the relevant premises during the specified period to undergo a COVID-19 nucleic acid test. After making the decision to expand the scope of compulsory testing, the Government issued compulsory testing notices on 30 December 2020 in respect of specified premises meeting the above conditions. Dozens of buildings in various districts of Hong Kong Island, Kowloon and the New Territories were included and almost half of them were located in Kowloon East.
This extensive and proactive move of compulsory testing underlines the Government’s determination to take precise and swift actions to fight the virus. It is not only a big step forward in the Government’s battle against the epidemic, but also a new tactic employed in a fast, accurate and resolute manner to achieve “zero infection”.
The Government will continue to trace possibly infected persons who have been to the relevant premises, and verify carefully whether they have complied with the testing notice. Any person who fails to comply with the testing notice commits an offence and may be fined a fixed penalty of $5,000. The person would also be issued with a compulsory testing order requiring him/her to undergo testing within a specified time frame. Failure to comply with the order is an offence and the offender would be liable to a fine at level 4 ($25,000) and imprisonment for six months.
Current provision of quarantine facilities sufficient
The Government has been racing against time and doing its best to increase the provision of quarantine facilities and commence their operation. Last Tuesday (December 29), I inspected the Penny’s Bay Quarantine Centre.
With concerted efforts across government departments and contractors, the Penny’s Bay Quarantine Centre, which has been developed in four phases to provide a total of 3 500 units, is now in full operation. Currently, a total of about 4 150 units are provided in quarantine centres across the territory, which include the Junior Police Call Permanent Activity Centre at Pat Heung, the Lei Yue Mun Park and Holiday Village as well as the Sai Kung Outdoor Recreation Centre. In addition, the Government has arranged for four hotels, namely Silka Tsuen Wan, Dorsett Kwun Tong, Silka Seaview in Yau Ma Tei and Rambler Garden Hotel in Tsing Yi, to operate as quarantine hotels to provide over 1 700 rooms for close contacts of confirmed cases. In other words, there are about 6 000 quarantine units for the time being. The current usage rate of various quarantine facilities is about 30 per cent and over 3 000 units are still available for use, indicating a sufficient provision of quarantine facilities in the territory. The Government will closely monitor the use of various quarantine facilities and make timely adjustments when necessary.
Stringent enforcement through joint operations
During the Christmas and New Year period, the Police and other law enforcement agencies, including the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD), stepped up enforcement actions relating to anti-epidemic regulations. Between December 24 and January 1, a total of about 10 000 premises (comprising about 8 500 catering premises and 1 500 others) were inspected in the joint and individual operations conducted by the Police and the FEHD. Prosecution was initiated for 108 suspected cases of breach of Cap. 5991 and other ordinances. A total of 729 fixed penalty notices of $5,000 were also issued to those who violated relevant group gathering and mask-wearing requirements.
Many citizens spent a lot of time going out or had parties and meal gatherings at home during Christmas and New Year times, while a large number of foreign domestic helpers (FDHs) had street gatherings in various districts. And there were unruly people who ignored the ban on group gathering and the mask-wearing mandate. During the period, the Labour Department, the Leisure and Cultural Services Department, the Police and the FEHD carried out joint publicity and law enforcement actions in popular gathering places of FDHs2. From December 24 to January 1, a total of 75 fixed penalty notices of $5,000 were issued to those who violated relevant group gathering and mask-wearing requirements.
Despite a seemingly downward trend in the number of new confirmed cases, the drop is slow and there may be a rebound after the Christmas and New Year holidays. The situation is worrying. As the epidemic cannot be kept under control by law enforcement alone, I would like to caution the public again that they must not only refrain from breaking the law, but also be self-disciplined and co-operate with the Government in fighting against the virus. Everyone should bear in mind that they are obliged to comply with the anti-epidemic requirements and directions and support the Government’s appeal, so as to protect the health and safety of themselves, their families and friends, as well as other members of the community.
Appeal for positive response towards receiving vaccination
The Government will strive for the early supply of vaccines to Hong Kong and ensure that the vaccines concerned satisfy the relevant requirements and procedures, as well as obtain emergency use approval in accordance with the relevant anti-epidemic regulation, with a view to ensuring the safety, efficacy and quality of the vaccines. We will follow the principle of openness and transparency to enable members of the public to access the relevant information on vaccines. We will make careful arrangements to ensure public understanding and buy-in and to enable the smooth and orderly implementation of the vaccination programmes. I would like to appeal to members of the public to receive vaccination in accordance with the group priority to be set by the HKSAR Government, so as to protect themselves and others and help Hong Kong come through the epidemic.
Hong Kong was beset with ordeals in 2020. While fighting the virus in the first half of the year, we also had to combat violence in society. It was only after the introduction of the National Security Law for Hong Kong in the middle of the year that law and order resumed and people could enjoy peace and tranquillity again. The epidemic has enhanced social cohesion and our ability to face adversity. With strong commitment and determination to enhance governance, the Government will pursue socio-economic developments and improvement of people’s livelihood besides fighting the virus.
Over the past year, people from all walks of life and our colleagues in the civil service have fought the epidemic in different capacities. My special thanks go to members of the healthcare sector for diligently discharging their duties with professionalism and commitment. They are the unsung heroes in our anti-epidemic battle. The HKSAR Government shares the same goal with all Hong Kong people, i.e. fighting the virus and striving to achieve “zero infection” in the soonest possible time so that Hong Kong can get out of the impasse and start afresh. The day of winning the battle will not be far away when the whole community fully supports our anti-epidemic measures and responds positively to receiving COVID-19 vaccination.
1Relating to providing dine-in services after 6 pm, distance or partition between tables, mask-wearing, more than two persons seated together at one table, and proper display of the poster containing the “LeaveHomeSafe” venue QR code.
2Including the Tamar Park in Admiralty, the Victoria Park in Causeway Bay, the footbridge near Fa Yuen Street in Mong Kok, the Cultural Centre in Tsim Sha Tsui, and various places in Central, Wan Chai, Sham Shui Po, Kowloon City, Wong Tai Sin, Tsing Yi and Tseung Kwan O.