- Chief executive cites daily caseloads at between 4,000 and 6,000, and lessons from deadly fifth wave, saying pandemic never left
- He stresses government’s overall strategy is to allow public events to proceed amid what is considered ‘acceptable restrictions’
Hong Kong’s leader has dismissed calls to scrap a Covid-19 health code arrangement or ease rules on mask-wearing despite the smooth hosting of the Sevens rugby event over the weekend, hinting that the current “0+3” approach will not be aborted soon.
Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu, who earlier declared the mega sporting event to be a resounding “success”, on Tuesday doubled down on present pandemic policies, arguing they had already enabled the city to open up and allowed authorities to tailor make relaxed arrangements for international events.
More of such global events could be held in a similar manner, he said.
Under the “0+3” model, overseas arrivals serve three days of medical surveillance, during which they are allowed limited movement in the city and must be tested for Covid-19 regularly. But exemptions were made for those attending a high-powered bankers’ summit last week, allowing them to visit museums and dine at designated venues.
“What is important is under ‘0+3’, already a lot of activities have been taking place. At the present moment, I think ‘0+3’ has served the purpose of Hong Kong to an acceptable and anticipated extent,” Lee said before the weekly meeting with his advisers in the Executive Council.
Calls for Hong Kong to further open up were renewed as a series of key events took place in the city over the past week, with top officials, including Lee, seen unmasked and enjoying the festivities with guests at the Sevens under rules allowing stadium spectators to eat and drink.
But the chief executive on Tuesday rejected calls from the tourism sector to scrap the “amber” code on the government’s risk-exposure “Leave Home Safe” app for incoming travellers, which bans them from restaurants and bars during their three-day medical surveillance.
Lee said despite the city having already opened significantly amid a stable pandemic situation, there were still some 4,000 to 6,000 infections daily. He also pointed to a recent high of 18 coronavirus-linked deaths reported in a single day, warning the pandemic had never left.
He made clear that the government currently had no plans to lift general mask-wearing rules, when asked if there was more room to relax measures outside stadium or event venues.
“Masks will stay on because I think all experts have indicated masks [are] important to control the spread of the disease. After all, we have to be conscious of some of the uncertainties of Covid,” he warned.
Citing the city’s latest Omicron-fuelled fifth Covid-19 wave, Lee said safety arrangements in place could not cope with the rampant spread of the virus, therefore masks were needed as one of the most important measures.
Lee stressed that the government’s overall strategy was to balance the risks against economic and social needs, and to allow activities to proceed amid what was considered acceptable restrictions.
That included the latest announcement on Monday to allow overseas visitors in group tours entry into designated tourist attractions, including restaurants, theme parks and museums while serving their three-day medical surveillance.
“The tour groups’ arrangement takes into account the needs of the tourism industry and Hong Kong’s economy, but [any relaxation] must be carried out step by step while the risks are under control,” Lee said, when asked if individual travellers could enjoy the same exemptions soon.
Lee added that government departments would from time to time review the situation and look at data as the city organised more activities, to allow more events with “the maximum of freedom”.