Hong Kong’s leader on Tuesday dismissed calls for an independent investigation into the government’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic , saying there has never been a recognised best solution to the public health crisis. But government health adviser Professor Yuen Kwok-yung, who called for a far-reaching inquiry last week, said he was simply looking for improvements and lessons to be learned, rather than finding a scapegoat. In rejecting the proposal from one of the city’s leading infectious disease experts, Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu stressed the government already regularly evaluated its response to the pandemic. “The epidemic situation has been changing rapidly, and local governments respond in real time according to the situation. There is no recognised best or standard solution,” he said before his weekly meeting with his top advisers. “I agree that we must sum up experience to ensure that we can effectively respond to different threats, and that is what the government has been continuously doing – to sum up experience and optimised measures to ensure we have the ability to respond.” As the threat had now receded, his administration would focus on economic growth and returning the city to full normality, Lee said. Authorities would “very soon” axe polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test requirements for travellers going to mainland China, but the mask mandate would remain in place, at least for now, as the risk of a winter surge in Covid-19 cases remained, he added. Lee stressed that since taking office last July, he had launched mechanisms to constantly review and improve pandemic-control policies, including establishing a command group to lead departments’ response to the crisis. He also argued he had strengthened the public healthcare system and made decisions based on scientific evidence as the situation changed. “Even if I have listed 100 plans today, if there is any new development with the epidemic the next day, or the emergence of a new disease, there might be a 101st or 102nd plan,” he said. Private doctors say no Covid-19 patient surge as Hong Kong ends isolation Lee also tasked Deputy Financial Secretary Michael Wong Wai-tun with carrying out a full review of the use of isolation and quarantine centres to decide when the land could be released for redevelopment. But some of the resources will be kept in reserve to cope with possible future crises. Lee said the mask mandate, one of the remaining coronavirus restrictions, could be lifted after the winter. “We have to be able to ensure that we will be able to pass this winter surge, and when we successfully overcome this challenge, then there will be big room for consideration to see how and when we will remove the mask mandate,” he said. Yuen, from the University of Hong Kong, told the Post on Tuesday he was not trying to assign blame for the handling of the crisis. “I am not referring to a legally binding investigation committee which can punish people, but an objective independent review committee, so that we can improve our system and to reduce the number of deaths from 13,000 this time to a much lower number … when another similar pandemic comes,” he said. Lee noted Singapore had logged about 1,700 deaths so far, far fewer than Hong Kong. When Yuen proposed the independent investigation last week, he pointed to problems in areas such as virus tracking, isolation and testing in the early stages of the pandemic. He also urged the government to review large-scale outbreaks at care homes for the elderly. His suggestion was earlier partly supported by Executive Council convenor Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee, but she argued now was not the time to examine pandemic work as the crisis was not over. Ip said lawmakers and health experts could be appointed to carry out the review later, but an independent panel of judges was not required, as they were not policy experts. Professor Ivan Hung Fan-ngai, a government pandemic expert, agreed there was a need for investigation and that an independent panel would be more objective. “We still need to reflect on the past three years to further improve on strategies to tackle future pandemic and to improve the overall healthcare system,” Hung said. Alex Lam Chi-yau, of pressure group Hong Kong Patients’ Voices, said that a review would help Hong Kong to be prepared for the future. “We are not looking for the best solutions [in tackling an epidemic]. If the deaths of 299 people during the epidemic of severe acute respiratory syndrome was a painful experience, could we take it lightly after the deaths of more than 10,000 people [during the Covid-19 epidemic]?” Lam said. “We should learn lessons from such a traumatic experience.” Room to ease tests for cross-border travellers exists: Hong Kong ex-leader Lawmaker Tik Chi-yuen said that without an inquiry, it would be difficult for Hong Kong to learn from past mistakes. “Not only is it about gaining wisdom from past experiences, it is also about offering the public an explanation,” he said, adding any review conducted internally by the government could be viewed as “narrow and biased”. Tik promised he would push for the legislature to set up a subcommittee and use its legal powers to summon people to give testimony. But Exco member Gary Chan Hak-kan said he opposed carrying out an independent inquiry, arguing the city should now turn to development opportunities in the post-pandemic era. “I agree we should sum up the experience and learn from mistakes, but it does not have to be in an inquiry format,” Chan, a lawmaker for the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, said. “A lot of our anti-pandemic measures have been improving from time to time in the past three years. There is no need for another full probe on the matter.” Hong Kong on Tuesday recorded 361 new Covid-19 cases detected through PCR tests, as well as 15 more new related deaths.