It is time to “hand over responsibility and power” to Hongkongers in the fight against Covid-19, the city’s health minister has said while insisting residents have become more familiar with the coronavirus. Secretary for Health Lo Chung-mau on Thursday sought to reassure the city amid latest changes that marked Hong Kong’s most drastic round of eased pandemic curbs. Lo said infections would not overwhelm the healthcare system and that the lifting of quarantine for close contacts would release 500 workers to cope with the surge in cases. Defending the government’s move to drop the vaccine pass, test mandates for travellers and most social-distancing measures, the health chief said it was not a sudden decision and he was not “giving up” on epidemic control. “The caseload is no longer a very important part of the current situation. Everyone is more familiar with how to deal with the virus,” Lo told a radio programme on Thursday. “It’s time for change – from the government controlling the situation to handing over the responsibility and power of quarantine and infection prevention to residents. It’s up to them to decide whether they have symptoms to see a doctor or take sick leave.” Hong Kong is lifting Covid curbs big time. Here are travel must-knows Hong Kong’s relaxations came three days after Beijing on Monday night announced it would downgrade Covid-19 as an infectious disease and reopen the country’s border from January 8, as well as scrap centralised quarantine and on-arrival tests. Hong Kong logged 24,895 Covid-19 cases on Thursday, including 1,306 imported infections, and 62 deaths. The city’s total case tally now stands at 2,568,596 cases, and 11,683 fatalities. Lo on Thursday said the lifting of measures, part of one of the toughest Covid regimes in the world, was announced after balancing anti-epidemic efforts, social costs, economic momentum and the situation of the public healthcare system. He also insisted the dropping of the vaccine pass – which he had only last week argued should remain in place – was a timely policy adjustment considering “cost effectiveness”, reiterating that authorities were still concerned about how to boost the vaccination rate among the elderly and young children. Lawmaker Michael Tien Puk-sun on the same show however disagreed with the move to end the vaccine pass scheme. “If people coming from mainland China are not required to be fully vaccinated and enter restaurants after the border reopens, once the caseload increases, public hospitals will be full,” Tien warned. He argued that mainland travellers should be fully vaccinated, just like overseas arrivals. Hong Kong Patients’ Voices chairman Alex Lam Chi-yau echoed similar concerns on the radio programme, urging authorities to limit the number of arrivals and allow only vaccinated people to enter the city in the early stages of border reopening, to prevent the overloading of public hospitals. “The Hospital Authority is owed more than HK$200 million in medical expenses by non-eligible people. Increasing the fee for them may still not prevent a large number of mainlanders from coming to Hong Kong for treatment,” Lam said. Hong Kong to drop on-arrival Covid PCR tests, vaccine pass from Thursday Professor Lau Yu-lung, who chairs a government committee on vaccines, said authorities could consider dropping quarantine for those who were infected if the number of cases fell next year. “The daily caseload has remained at about 20,000 recently and I believe it has reached its peak. If it really drops to 15,000 by the start of next year, it may be possible to consider cancelling quarantine,” Lau told the same programme. He added that mask-wearing was a way to prevent infection at the lowest social cost and with the highest benefit.