Hong Kong – Vigilance and prevention against cervical cancer urged in Cervical Cancer Awareness Month

Vigilance and prevention against cervical cancer urged in Cervical Cancer Awareness Month


     The Department of Health (DH) today (January 6) urged members of the public to support Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, which has been designated as every January by the International Agency for Research on Cancer under the World Health Organization, with an aim of eliminating this preventable disease by the end of this century through global co-operation.

     In 2020, it was the seventh most common female cancer with over 550 new cases and 159 deaths in Hong Kong.

     “Persistent infection with high-risk human papillomavirus (HPV) may cause cervical cancer. Risk factors for HPV infection or cervical cancer include sexual intercourse at an early age, multiple sexual partners, smoking and weakened immunity. Therefore, it is advisable for people to practise safe sex (e.g. use condoms and avoid having multiple sexual partners) and avoid tobacco smoking,” a spokesman for the DH advised.

     Both HPV vaccination and cervical screening have proven to be effective preventive measures against cervical cancer. Since the 2019/20 school year, the DH has provided free HPV vaccination to eligible Primary Five school girls under the Hong Kong Childhood Immunisation Programme through the school outreach vaccination service. As of July 2022, the coverage rate for the first and second doses of HPV vaccination for Primary Five and Six female students in 2020/21 school year were 88 per cent and 86 per cent respectively. The Scientific Committee on Vaccine Preventable Diseases under the Centre for Health Protection of the DH updated the use of HPV vaccine in Hong Kong in November last year and recommended the Government to provide mop-up HPV vaccination for secondary school female students or older girls (18 years or below). A one-off catch up programme is under planning, in which mop-up vaccination would be arranged for the girls in the aforementioned target group in 2023 to 2024 subject to the availability of vaccines. Details will be announced in due course.

     Apart from that, women aged 25 to 64 who ever had sex should receive regular cervical screening. According to the Population Health Survey 2020, among the female population in that age group, around half had ever had cervical screening. The Government has been promulgating cervical screening in collaboration with the healthcare sector, and has launched the Cervical Screening Programme in 2004. The major service providers include the Maternal and Child Health Centres (MCHCs) and Woman Health Centres of the DH, non-governmental organisations and private healthcare providers. The MCHCs currently offer subsidised cervical screening to the public, at $100 per screening; payment is waived for recipients of Comprehensive Social Security Assistance and holders of the Certificate for Waiver of Medical Charges.

     To raise public awareness of preventing cervical cancer and the importance of having regular cervical screening, the DH will continue to conduct various health promotion activities. For more information on cervical cancer and screening, please visit www.cervicalscreening.gov.hk/en/index.html.

Hong Kong – Prevention and Control of Disease (Vaccine Pass) (Amendment) Regulation 2022 gazetted

Prevention and Control of Disease (Vaccine Pass) (Amendment) Regulation 2022 gazetted


     The Court of First Instance handed down its judgment on the judicial review application in respect of COVID-19 Vaccination Medical Exemption Certificates (Exemption Certificates) on October 21, 2022. Having carefully considered the legal advice, the exigency of the fight against the epidemic and the interest of the relevant stakeholders and the public at large, the Government has decided not to appeal against the decision of the Court. The Government would amend the relevant regulations, in order to provide clear legal basis for the relevant directions.

     As always, the Government acts in accordance with the law, and strives to ensure that any policy or act of the Government has clear legal authority. The Prevention and Control of Disease Ordinance (Cap. 599) and its regulations empower the Government to make regulations for the purposes of preventing, combating or alleviating the effects of the public health emergency and protecting public health. The relevant regulations concern different areas, affect different sectors of the community, and target the ever-changing epidemic situation as well as variants of the virus. Hence, the regulations are formulated in broad terms in order to best achieve the objectives. This also serves the overall public interest and protects the health of the citizens.

     It is incumbent on the Government to promptly react, when it was revealed that certain private doctors were suspected to have failed to provide proper medical consultation to patients in accordance with the guidelines of the Department of Health (DH) and abused the issuance of Exemption Certificates. This is because if relevant individuals continue to delay vaccination according to the recommendations made by the relevant doctors on the Exemption Certificates, they may put their health at risk of severe illness or even death in case of COVID-19 infection, and also place an unnecessary burden on the public healthcare system. Thus the Government issued the relevant directions under the Prevention and Control of Disease (Vaccine Pass) Regulation, Cap. 599L and the Prevention and Control of Disease (Requirements and Directions) (Business and Premises) Regulation, Cap. 599F. In parallel, the Government has made facilitation arrangements to enable affected individuals to consult a doctor from the public healthcare system as early as possible for free by visiting general out-patient clinics under the Hospital Authority such that the doctors may ascertain whether they can continue to be medically exempted according to their clinical conditions.

     Having considered the evidence and legal submissions of the parties, the Court ruled that relevant legal provisions did not authorise the Government not to accept any person’s Exemption Certificates as the Vaccine Pass. Having considered the legal advice, the exigency of combating the epidemic, the time it may take for the appeal and the remaining validity period of the relevant Exemption Certificates, the Government has taken the view that the best course of action is to amend the relevant regulations instead of lodging an appeal. Such course is considered to be in the best interest of Hong Kong.

     The Government published in the Gazette today (October 25) the Prevention and Control of Disease (Vaccine Pass) (Amendment) Regulation 2022 (Amendment Regulation) to provide a clear legal basis for handling the Exemption Certificates issued by individual doctors suspected to have failed to conduct clinical assessment for patients in accordance with the guidelines issued by the DH, in order to uphold the integrity and robustness of the Vaccine Pass system. The Amendment Regulation will be tabled at the Legislative Council tomorrow (October 26) for negative vetting, and the Amendment Regulation will be effective on the same day.

     Specifically, the Amendment Regulation empowers the Secretary for Health to declare specified Exemption Certificates as invalidated when there are reasonable grounds for suspecting that a registered medical practitioner had issued the Exemption Certificates without conducting clinical assessment. Moreover, the Secretary for Health may also, on the ground of public interest, declare all the specified Exemption Certificates issued by a registered medical practitioner as invalidated. Before the Secretary for Health declares the specified Exemption Certificates issued by a certain registered medical practitioner as invalidated, he must have regard to all relevant factors, including (but not limited to) the possible adverse consequences of the integrity and robustness of the Vaccine Pass system; whether the registered medical practitioner had issued any Exemption Certificate without conducting clinical assessment, as well as the number, pattern and mode of issuance of Exemption Certificates by the said medical practitioner within a particular span of time; and the advice of the Director of Health.

     In addition, the Amendment Regulation also extends the expiry date of the Prevention and Control of Disease (Vaccine Pass) Regulation (Cap. 599L) by six months from midnight on December 31, 2022 to midnight on June 30, 2023.

     A Government spokesman stressed that the Vaccine Pass is an important tool to fight against the epidemic and safeguard public health. In order to uphold the integrity and robustness of the Vaccine Pass system, and taking into account the court’s judgement on the judicial review case, the Government has the responsibility to plug the relevant loophole, in order to provide a clear legal basis in preventing those who may not meet the original intent of the exemption from continuing to use the relevant Exemption Certificate. The objective of the relevant measure is to protect individuals who have not yet completed the COVID-19 vaccination course and to reduce the risks borne when they enter high-risk premises, and at the same time avoid placing unnecessary burden on the public healthcare system. The Government calls upon members of the public to fight the epidemic together and support the Government’s anti-epidemic measures. The healthcare sector should also vigilantly uphold professionalism for the continued trust by the public.

Hong Kong – LCQ6: Prevention of school and cyber bullying

LCQ6: Prevention of school and cyber bullying


     Following is a question by the Hon Elizabeth Quat and a reply by the Secretary for Education, Mr Kevin Yeung, in the Legislative Council today (September 15):
     The findings of a survey show that school bullying is a serious problem in Hong Kong. Nearly 30 per cent of the responding students indicated that they had been bullied, and such a percentage was higher than the relevant percentages on the Mainland and in the Taiwan region. It has been reported that during the riots in 2019, with politics infiltrating schools, various kinds of bullying problems were even more severe. Moreover, during the epidemic, incidents of cyber bullying have increased concomitantly with the rising number of young people playing online games. On prevention of school and cyber bullying, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) of the respective numbers of requests for assistance, complaints and reports about school bullying received by the authorities since January 2019; whether they have studied the underlying causes for the occurrence of such cases and formulated corresponding plans;
(2) as there are views that the “zero tolerance” policy adopted by the Education Bureau (EDB) in respect of school bullying is empty talk because the EDB has not mandated schools to report bullying cases, conducted preventive inspections or drawn up clear penalty provisions, whether the EDB will, by drawing reference from the practices on the Mainland and in the Taiwan region, strengthen the investigation, punishment and reporting mechanisms, as well as step up efforts in holding teachers and school authorities accountable; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; and
(3) given that some overseas jurisdictions have made cyber bullying a criminal offence, whether the Government will enact the relevant legislation; if so, of the details; if not, what new measures are in place to address cyber bullying and prevent young people from becoming the victims of such cyber bullying which does not constitute a criminal offence?
     School is a place where students learn to care, concern, support and respect one another. Maintaining a safe and harmonious school environment for students to learn and grow up happily is the fundamental responsibility of schools, as well as a common goal of the Education Bureau (EDB) and all educators. During the social turmoil in 2019, politics permeated schools, which caused restlessness in schools, and there were even more bullying incidents due to differences in stances. However, with the implementation of the National Security Law, social order and calmness in schools have been restored. We should take this opportunity to step up values education and reduce bullying incidents. In respect of school bullying, the EDB has all along been adopting a “zero tolerance” policy and continuously adopting a multi-pronged approach to help schools implement the policy on prevention and handling of school bullying. These include nurturing students’ positive values and cultivating in students a sense of mutual trust, inclusion and friendship through school curriculum, learning and teaching resources and diversified learning activities. Last year, “empathy” and “law-abidingness” have been added as priority values. On administration, the EDB has issued guidelines requiring schools to adopt a “whole school approach” in formulating and implementing anti-bullying strategies, which should include a clear stance on “zero tolerance”, reporting channels and handling procedures, highly transparent monitoring and an attitude to handle each school bullying incident proactively and seriously. In addition, we have been providing professional development programmes for teachers to enhance their professional knowledge and capacity on preventing and handling bullying in schools.
     My reply to the question raised by the Hon Elizabeth Quat is as follows:
(1) Since 2019, the EDB has received a total of 41 complaints about school bullying, mainly involving verbal bullying, cyber bullying and physical bullying. Among the 37 completed cases, seven cases were found substantiated or partially substantiated. Disciplinary actions have been taken by the schools concerned against the teachers/students involved. Besides, the EDB has also issued advisory/warning letters to teachers who are involved in professional misconduct.
     Every bullying case is unique and involves the interplay of multiple personal and environmental factors, including the personalities and social skills of the students involved as well as the awareness and tolerance of others towards bullying. Schools are required to assess and examine the unique circumstances of each case to formulate the appropriate plan on handling the case. Apart from handling the cases immediately (including supporting the students involved, stopping and punishing/disciplining and providing guidance to the bullies), explaining the incidents to parents and submitting reports to the EDB on complaint cases after investigation, the schools should also take preventive measures including making clear the schools’ stance on “zero tolerance” towards school bullying to all stakeholders and continuously raising their awareness of anti-bullying. In addition, stakeholders of different sectors should co-operate to create a harmonious and inclusive atmosphere in our society.
(2) School management manages schools directly, hence has the responsibility of educating students, maintaining a harmonious environment in schools, and handling any problems found in the schools immediately. The School Administration Guide and circulars issued by the EDB lay down the principles of handling school bullying, as well as the relevant procedures, methods and follow-up actions clearly. At the same time, schools should take education, guidance and protection of their students as the prime concern when handling school bullying. Regarding the reporting mechanism, all school staff are required to report to the school management or the responsible team when any bullying case is known to them. If the cases are of a more serious nature (e.g. teachers being the bullies, incidents involving brutal violence, injuries or deaths, etc.), schools should notify the EDB. If suspected child maltreatment is involved, schools should consult the Social Welfare Department (SWD) directly. For serious cases, schools should report them to the Police immediately for assistance. 
     When handling school bullying incidents, the school management, discipline/guidance team, professional personnel, parents, the EDB and other government departments (such as the SWD and the Police), all play a part in providing assistance to the bullies and the bullied from different aspects. They include providing intervention, support, mediation, imposing punishments and taking follow-up actions, etc. The Government has implemented the policy of “one school social worker for each school” in primary schools since the 2018/19 school year, and “two social workers for each school” in secondary schools since the 2019/20 school year, to enhance schools’ capacity to support students and help schools prevent and handle bullying incidents.
     On punishment, if a school bullying incident involves misconduct or professional misconduct of teachers, the EDB will seriously follow up and take appropriate actions in accordance with the Education Ordinance, including issuing advisory letters, warning letters or reprimand letters. For serious cases, the EDB will consider cancelling the registration of the teachers. If the bullying incident involves a criminal offence, the Police will also follow up and investigate.
     To further enhance school staff’s capability of preventing and handling school bullying, the EDB will strengthen the promotion of exchanges and sharing of good practices among schools. Also, relevant support will be provided to schools in need through professional consultation, school visits and school-based training activities continuously. In addition, the EDB is currently reviewing relevant measures and will enhance existing guidelines and teaching resources as necessary to prevent bullying incidents in collaboration with schools.
(3) The Security Bureau indicates that even though there is currently no specified criminal offence in Hong Kong targeting cyber bullying, the Internet is not an unreal world that is beyond the law. As far as the existing legislation in Hong Kong is concerned, most of the crime-prevention laws in the real world are applicable to the online world. All bullying activities (cyber or not) are governed by relevant legislation if they involve criminal offences. Depending on the circumstances of individual cases, inappropriate speech published online may also contravene other offences, such as criminal intimidation or blackmail.

     In view of the potential for information technology, the computer and the Internet to be exploited for carrying out criminal activities, a sub-committee under the Law Reform Commission (LRC) has initiated a study on cybercrime to identify the challenges arising from the rapid developments of the Internet, review existing legislation and other relevant measures, examine relevant developments in other jurisdictions, and recommend possible law reforms in accordance with findings. The Government will pay close attention to the progress of the LRC’s study. 
     Besides, the EDB provides a framework on “Information Literacy Framework for Hong Kong Students” and information kits on e-learning for schools to nurture students’ ability and attitude to use information and communication technology. We also provide professional development programmes and information kits on e-learning for teachers to facilitate schools in promoting relevant parent education. In addition, we co-operate with other government departments and non-government organisations to enhance students’ information literacy and awareness of cyber security through student activities and competitions.
     Thank you, President.