Govt didn’t bungle Covid response, CE tells lawmakers

Chief Executive Carrie Lam on Wednesday rejected suggestions that her administration had bungled its handling of the Covid-19 pandemic as she sparred with some lawmakers in the first meeting of the new Legislative Council.

During a question-and-answer session, legislator Yan Chan said the Omicron variant is only spreading in the community due to a large number of loopholes left open by the government, and called for stricter measures such as universal testing and to expand a looming school shutdown to secondary institutions and universities.

But Lam took issue with the suggestion that the government’s anti-epidemic work had been deficient.

“If you contend that over the past two years, there have been numerous mishaps in fighting the pandemic, I cannot accept this view, because this is unfair to the tens of thousands of people who have been fighting the pandemic, both on the front lines and behind the scenes,” she said.

Lam said there’s no such thing as a perfect system – especially when it requires the compliance of the more than seven million residents of Hong Kong.

Addressing suggestions from Roundtable legislator Michael Tien that exemptions for aircrew had led to the Omicron outbreaks here, Lam said the system would have worked if people complied with the rules.

“In terms of exemptions for cargo members and the home quarantine arrangements, they have been in place for a long time. And for the first 11 months of last year alone, 4.5 million tonnes of goods were brought to Hong Kong without any issues, so you cannot simply say that the system did not work, or that we did not do a proper job of providing oversight,” she said.

“But we are talking about human beings. So, inevitably some people would break the rules every day or else there would be no need for law enforcement,” she added.

The chief executive also told legislators that she has finalised plans to restructure the government for the next SAR leader to consider.

Lam said the changes would include setting up a new Culture, Sports and Tourism Bureau and splitting housing and transport into separate bureaus.

Other existing bureaus will be revamped. For example, the Food and Health Bureau will in future focus solely on medical and health policies, while the Home Affairs Bureau would be expanded to cover youth development.

In all, the plans would see 15 bureaus in total, up from the current 13. Lam said it will be up to her successor to decide whether to appoint deputy ministers.

“The next term of the government may consider the creation of the posts of deputy secretaries of departments to take forward and coordinate large-scale developments, such as the Northern Metropolis and Lantau Tomorrow vision,” she said.

“Other matters requiring high-level coordination include cross-bureau issues such as national security, climate change and manpower policy. However, whether the posts of deputy secretaries of departments should be created or not is a matter of the style of governance. It should be considered by the chief executive-elect,” said Lam.