After two years of social distancing, masking up, working from home and the like, the authorities can struggle to get their message across against the still fast-moving and changing coronavirus. Pandemic fatigue and familiarity breed complacency. It is not easy to maintain vigilance as a way of life. This is all the more reason for timely rules aimed at staying ahead of the threat of contagion, and for officials to set the right example by being seen to follow them. The attendance of 10 senior officials and bureaucrats among about 100 guests at a private birthday party for an official on Monday, attended by a suspected Covid-19 patient, is disquieting. It was exactly the kind of gathering to be wary of when the highly contagious Omicron variant had been detected in Hong Kong. Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s disappointment is palpable, especially in Secretary for Home Affairs Caspar Tsui Ying-wai, who was among those still at the party when the suspected patient arrived, and is now languishing in mandatory quarantine at Penny’s Bay. After all, the highly contagious Omicron variant had already made its potency felt in a Kowloon Tong restaurant the previous week. The bureaucrats were clearly ignoring the advice of their own colleagues in government, Lam said on Thursday night, noting that just days earlier, health officials warned people to limit their gatherings and not to even take their masks off for photo-taking. Insisting ministers themselves had to take responsibility for their actions, Lam said she would take appropriate action. That she stopped short of announcing any punishment at this stage, having only just having uncovered the facts, is believed due to political considerations. The incident also occurred two days ahead of Wednesday’s tightening of social-distancing rules. What matters more is that it is handled in a fair and transparent way. Lam was grilled on the comparison with breaches of isolation rules by Cathay Pacific staff, for which she said the airline management had to take responsibility. New Covid-19 curbs leave Hong Kong businesses, residents counting the cost But she refused to be drawn into accepting the comparison or into making a public apology, Tsui has apologised to the public, the chief executive and the central government which appointed him. A lesson must be learned. Officials need to be more alert to the importance of their own actions at this critical time. If there was any evidence needed about the importance of timely rules to combat the virus it may be found in consecutive confusing announcements over a few days, firstly of an extension of a vaccine mandate for restaurants before Lunar New Year, followed by a delay until well after new year, then a drastic escalation of social-distancing rules from this week. The restaurant trade and patrons, among others, are understandably unimpressed.