Transcript of remarks of Command and Coordination Group press conference (with photo/video)
The Chief Executive, Mr John Lee, held a Command and Coordination Group press conference today (December 28). Also joining were the Secretary for Health, Professor Lo Chung-mau, and the Controller of the Centre for Health Protection of the Department of Health, Dr Edwin Tsui. Following is the transcript of remarks of the press conference:
Reporter: Mr Lee, you have earlier cautioned against the rapid reopening of the city amid the pandemic. Why has this round of relaxations come so suddenly? It now seems like the Government is now at the mercy of Beijing in terms of the pandemic restrictions. How would you tell the international community or perhaps investors who could have this perception following this announcement? And we’d also like to ask more about why the Government has decided to make a U-turn on the Vaccine Pass while the vaccination rates among the elderly and children remain low. And what strategies will the Government decide to adopt to boost the vaccination rate in the future? And at the same time, we’d also like to ask a bit more about the border reopening. You said that your goal is January 15. Does it mean that you aim to reopen the border by January 15? And what are also the measures that follow afterwards? Thank you.
Chief Executive: First of all, I would not agree with your comments that this is sudden or rapid. If you look at what this Government has started to do since assumption of office, we have always been preparing us for progressing towards normalisation. I think I’ve said this many times, but I have to do it progressively, in an orderly manner and under control so that we can assess the risk as we go on. I think people have seen how this is being implemented. So it is not rapid, nor sudden. There will always come a day when we have to make a big decision about normalisation. That is actually what we are doing now because the time is appropriate for us to do it, having prepared for six months to do all these. In fact, I think society as a whole is preparing because I’ve been hearing a lot of voices saying that this is the thing that has to be done. So it’s not just the Government, I think the whole society is preparing for this. So I wouldn’t agree with your comment. We are doing all these according to our local epidemic situation.
The second thing is about the Vaccine Pass. The Vaccine Pass has been very successful in promoting vaccination for all of us. And that is why we have successfully reached a 93 per cent- vaccination rate for two doses and 83 per cent for three doses, and plus what Professor Lo has explained, with over 2.5 million who have been infected. So generally, we have built quite a strong community immunity against the virus. We have very good confidence that we can control the risk because the medical service has enhanced its response system and also we have sufficient and effective medicine, and the community has good experience over three years to protect themselves. Hong Kong people as a whole are very compliant with our measures. I thank them sincerely.
The whole focus of our strategy now is to reduce death cases and serious cases and protect the high-risk groups which include the very old and the very young. So everything has been progressing according to plan and of course, we have to assess for each measure that we are implementing the return and the cost. We have pushed up the vaccination rate to such a good level, almost 94 per cent as explained for the overall protection, and we are proceeding to normalisation. I want to tell the world that, this is Hong Kong, Hong Kong is very normal now.That is why it has come to the right time that we will do without the Vaccine Pass. And that is exactly what this Government has been planning to do for normalisation. It has come to a time where we don’t have to rely on the Vaccine Pass. And we do another measure which is to focus our Vaccination Programme for the high risk groups.
Regarding the normalisation of travel with the Mainland, I think this is the voice of a lot of people. I’m very thankful to the Central People’s Government for making the direction that we will resume normal travel with the Mainland step by step, orderly, with a view to full opening for normalisation, and that is what we are doing now in close discussion with the authorities of the Mainland. It is my intention to reach an agreement with our counterparts no later than a time so that we can report to the Central People’s Government for endorsement, for implementation, before the middle of January.
Every party has been working hard towards the programme. The Government – 15 bureaux – have been working over the Christmas time to make proposals to ensure that when we start to resume normal travel with the Mainland, it will be done in an orderly and safe manner, and also allowing people concerned to have a good experience. We don’t want chaos. We don’t want things to happen which will be damageable to our overall safety. That is the goal.
We want to reach the agreement as soon as possible for implementation before the middle of January.
Reporter: Would the Government consider dropping the mask mandate as well and when? And also the second question is about Japan airport restrictions. Are the return flights from airports in, like Okinawa going to be time-limited? Thank you.
Chief Executive: I shall leave the masking measure to Professor Lo. In regard to the measures that the Japanese Government has introduced, in such a way that flights can only be allowed at four airports, we have done several things. First of all, we have indicated to the Japanese Government that we are disappointed with the arrangement because we think that Hong Kong people in Hong Kong flights should be allowed to use not just these four airports. And we approached the Consul-General of Japan in Hong Kong to relay that message. Besides that, our ETO (Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office) in Tokyo is trying to help anybody who needs assistance, and so are our Immigration Officers. What we have been doing is ensuring that we help pass the necessary information to particular Hong Kong people who need assistance. Basically, they want information, so that they will be able to make special arrangements. I know that some airlines are making alternative arrangements for the passengers, including that when they can, arrange ferry flights to transport some passengers to the four airports. Our ETO stands ready to assist anybody, and so is the Immigration (Department). We will stand by for any extra requests that Hong Kong citizens may have and we will offer our help. I wish the arrangement can be lifted as soon as possible. As regards the masking requirement, I’ll pass on to Professor Lo.
Secretary for Health: In considering the adjustments of all these public health measures and anti-COVID-19 strategies, we balanced the benefit versus the cost. The benefit of mask-wearing, especially at this point when we are facing a serious winter surge, is tremendous. We need to continue the mandatory mask-wearing in order to protect our citizens from the risks of, not just COVID-19, but also influenza and other respiratory tract infections. We will be facing the winter surge actually for now and the next couple of months. So in terms of this measure, we will be keeping it until we get over this winter surge.
(Please also refer to the Chinese portion of the transcript.)