All-out efforts to combat the epidemic
Welcome in a safe and healthy new year
Government strives to improve people’s livelihood and maintain Hong Kong’s stability
7 February 2021
As we bid farewell to the Year of the Rat and usher in the Year of the Ox, I would like to extend my New Year greetings to everyone, wishing all Hong Kong citizens good luck and good health, and Hong Kong an early victory over the epidemic with renewed harmony and prosperity.
Now in February 2021, with the epidemic still being volatile, we are cautiously optimistic in Hong Kong. Although there has been a slight drop in new confirmed cases recently, the Government will not slacken its efforts during the Lunar New Year as infection control is a race against time. We will continue to make comprehensive arrangements, including mobilisation of personnel, in light of the actual situation to ensure that the infection control work is carried out in a careful, conscientious and thorough manner, so that the epidemic can be brought under control as soon as possible. In addition, the Government will continue to provide voluntary virus testing through various channels for easy access by the public. During the Lunar New Year, all 19 community testing centres in Hong Kong will remain open1. I strongly urge members of the public to undergo testing on a voluntary basis and support the Government’s anti-epidemic measures by staying at home and reducing social gathering during the holidays, while continuing to wash their hands frequently and wear a mask. Everyone should play a part in this battle against the epidemic.
Enhanced testing to eradicate the virus
In the run-up to the Lunar New Year holidays (from February 1 to 10), the Government is taking decisive measures to enforce restriction-testing declarations through frequent and extensive operations. Last Thursday night (February 4), I inspected the “restricted area” in Yau Ma Tei and saw people receiving testing at the temporary testing station in a co-operative and orderly manner. Their patience, co-operation and tolerance during the process are truly appreciated.
The Government’s restriction-testing operations (also known as “closed community compulsory testing”) in 20 specified “restricted areas” over the past two weeks have been completed successfully. More than 18 900 persons were tested, among which 15 confirmed cases were identified. Over 30 fixed penalty notices each carrying a fine of $5,000 and over 160 compulsory testing orders were issued for non-compliance with compulsory testing notices. The above figures have not included those of the restriction-testing operations in To Kwa Wan and Tuen Mun last night.
The Government would not have successfully completed these operations in different districts without the active participation and support of the Home Affairs Department, District Offices, Department of Health (DH), Food and Environmental Hygiene Department, various disciplined services and auxiliary services (such as the Police Force, Immigration Department, Customs and Excise Department, Fire Services Department, Correctional Services Department and Auxiliary Medical Service), other policy bureaux and departments, as well as various testing agencies which managed to deploy personnel efficiently for overnight work so that the cordoned areas could be re-opened as early as possible the next morning for residents to go to work, thus minimising the impact of the operations on the residents and the districts. I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude to all these personnel and thousands of our colleagues for their efforts and contribution.
Through such restriction-testing operations, we are able to identify asymptomatic patients with a view to cutting the virus transmission chains completely. I hope that members of the public will understand and support these operations as they are conducive to maintaining the health and safety of the public and the community as a whole, and are therefore definitely worth doing.
In view of the unstable situation of the epidemic, the Government has further tightened its infection control measures. If one or more new confirmed cases are found in a residential building (including buildings for both commercial and residential uses), all its residents will be subject to compulsory testing no matter whether the source of infection has been identified. This is to expand the scale of testing and strengthen surveillance. With the increased testing capability in Hong Kong as well as the enhanced capability in contact tracing of the Centre for Health Protection (CHP), the Government is confident that such compulsory testing could be effected.
As for the cluster outbreaks at the construction sites for the Hong Kong International Airport Three-runway System, starting from the coming Tuesday (February 9), all workers entering the construction sites for the Three-runway System will be required to present valid proof of a negative COVID-19 test result. The Airport Authority is making arrangements for all the workers to undergo testing every two weeks in order to comply with the site entry requirement.
Expanding the scope of sewage testing
With the painstaking efforts of the Environmental Protection Department, the Drainage Services Department and the expert team of the University of Hong Kong, sewage testing is conducted seven days a week without interruption. The battlefront has been extended from Yau Tsim Mong and Sham Shui Po to Kowloon City, Kwun Tong, Yuen Long and the Eastern District, with over a hundred technical professionals mobilised in the anti-epidemic war.
Prevention is better than cure. By adopting this principle, the Government decided earlier to step up and speed up efforts in tracing COVID-19 and identifying asymptomatic patients to better combat the epidemic. Starting from late January, each sampling point will have sewage tested for two days instead of three days, so as to cover more city blocks. Should viral presence be detected in any area upon sewage testing, even for only one day, operations such as “compulsory testing” and delineation of “restricted areas” will be contemplated by the Food and Health Bureau and CHP of DH upon careful consideration of all factors, including the presence of recently discharged COVID-19 patients in the concerned buildings or city blocks, the virus load in the sewage and the environmental factors of the concerned area.
We must understand that with a gradual drop in the number of infections in the community, the number of confirmed cases that can be identified through compulsory testing will decrease correspondingly. This is an encouraging result. I believe that we all wish to see a substantial decline in confirmed cases in the community. Such a decline does not imply flaws in sewage testing or Government actions. Rather, it reflects the success of the Government in stepping up anti-epidemic efforts and taking precautionary measures. In fact, a total of 15 compulsory testing orders were issued (including those issued in respect of “restricted areas”) owing to positive sewage test results during the period between December 28, 2020 and January 27, 2021. About 40 confirmed cases were identified. The number of buildings covered by the compulsory testing orders for city blocks ranged from 1 to 18. This proves that sewage testing can help trace asymptomatic patients. We would timely review the operation of sewage testing in accordance with the development of the epidemic, such as resuming three-day testing at each sampling point when the epidemic is relatively eased in order to provide more scientific data for the assessment of different cases.
Eliminating “Hong Kong Independence” and fighting crime
Last Tuesday (February 2), the Hong Kong Police Force announced Hong Kong’s overall law and order situation in 2020.
With the implementation of the National Security Law on June 30 last year, public order in Hong Kong has notably improved in the second half of the year in comparison with the previous months since the “anti-extradition law amendments” incidents in 2019. The National Security Law has produced a deterrent effect, turning around the chaos of extreme violence in society. Acts to advocate “Hong Kong independence” have since subsided, minimising the risks posed by acts endangering national security and acts of violence. The legitimate rights and freedoms of citizens are protected and society has returned to normalcy. The law enforcement agencies having been making arrests based on evidence and acting in strict accordance with the relevant laws and ordinances, bringing culprits to justice in accordance with judicial independence.
Promulgating guidelines on national security education
The National Security Law aims to prevent, suppress and impose punishment for acts and activities that endanger national security, and schools play a very significant role when it comes to “prevention”. The Education Bureau (EDB) issued circulars to all schools in Hong Kong last Thursday (February 4) to provide guidelines on school administration and education in relation to safeguarding national security, as well as details about the mode of implementation and learning and teaching resources for national security education in the school curriculum, with a view to facilitating schools to put in place measures to maintain a safe and orderly learning environment in schools and promote national security education. EDB will organise briefing sessions and professional development programmes for schools, and will keep close contact with the education sector to provide them with timely support regarding their implementation work.
Renewing the senior secondary Liberal Studies subject
Last Tuesday (February 2), EDB issued a circular memorandum to all secondary schools, putting forth proposals to optimise the four core subjects at the senior secondary level in terms of curriculum and assessment. The proposals included reform of Liberal Studies, which has been a subject of lingering controversy. The Government is determined to introduce reform of the subject in accordance with its curriculum goals and objectives by streamlining the curriculum content, consolidating the knowledge base of students, optimising the quality of teaching materials and assessment arrangements and renaming the subject. In the interest of student learning, the curriculum content will be reduced to cover about half of the original, aiming to free up space for students to engage in more focused learning.
The new curriculum will help students understand national development, the Constitution, the Basic Law and the rule of law, enhance their sense of national identity and civic responsibility, and deepen their understanding of contemporary cross-disciplinary topics. They will learn to connect the knowledge and skills gained from different subjects and study contemporary issues from multiple perspectives. Building an evidence-based, concrete and thorough understanding of the topics studied, they will develop critical thinking, rational analytical power and problem-solving skills, as well as national identity and international perspective, with a view to nurturing positive values and behaviour. Under the new curriculum, students will be provided with Mainland study opportunities in alignment with curriculum goals to gain a first-hand understanding of our country and its development.
The proposed reform is a move in the right direction, with clear objectives set to bring education back to basics. I hope that the education sector will join hands with the Government in implementing the reform while parents, students and all other members of the community will give their support. Together, we will nurture the next generation to become informed and responsible citizens with a sense of national identity and global perspective.
Striving to improve people’s livelihood and maintain Hong Kong’s stability
Last Thursday (February 4), the Chief Executive attended the Question and Answer Session at the Legislative Council and responded in one go to several legislative proposals which had already gained broad consensus among legislators. The five legislative tasks of the Government include:
- Stipulating in the law for oath-taking requirements for public officers (including District Council members);
- Enacting legislation on the admission of non-locally trained doctors (who must be Hong Kong permanent residents);
- Enacting legislation to impose tenancy control on subdivided units;
- Enacting legislation on enhancing fire safety in old buildings; and
- Enacting legislation to combat various kinds of acts of intrusion of personal privacy and dissemination of hate speech, discriminatory remarks or false information.
With a year or so left in the current term of the Government, time is really tight for completing the above legislative work. Nevertheless, with strong commitment and determination to maintain effective governance and rise to challenges, we will ensure the continuity of policies that will benefit Hong Kong and its people, stabilise society and stimulate the economy so that the city can move forward.
Last year saw tremendous changes in the world and in Hong Kong. It was an extraordinary year in which our city battled the pandemic and restored law and order. I fully agree with what Director Luo Huining of the Liaison Office of the Central People’s Government in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region said at the Spring Festival “Virtual Reception” held two days ago (February 5), including his four expectations for Hong Kong’s future.
Hong Kong is China’s Hong Kong, and Hong Kong will surely prosper when the country thrives. Hong Kong and the country are a community with a shared future, and the country is a strong backing for Hong Kong’s prosperity and stability. It is only with stability that Hong Kong’s economy will flourish and its people will lead a happy life. I have full confidence in the future of Hong Kong. The upholding of the “One Country, Two Systems” principle, coupled with Hong Kong’s rich talent pool, open business environment, superb geographic location, institutional advantages, active integration into the country’s development and firm grasp of the enormous opportunities in the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area, will ensure that Hong Kong, our home, can withstand storms and turbulence.
1 Please refer to the press release for details.