Covid-19 lockdowns not a waste of resources, says Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam

The Hong Kong government on Monday night imposed restrictions in some areas.
The Hong Kong government on Monday night imposed restrictions in some areas.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

HONG KONG - In a sign that Hong Kong will see more buildings and streets undergo lockdowns amid the Covid-19 fight, the city’s leader Carrie Lam has insisted such operations are necessary to stay ahead of the virus even as she dismissed criticism that they are a waste of time and money.

Just hours after the lifting of four overnight lockdowns in specific areas in Kowloon and the New Territories, the government at about 7pm on Tuesday (Feb 2) launched similar operations in Sham Shui Po, Jordan and Tin Shui Wai – all in Kowloon peninsula.

Speaking ahead of the weekly Executive Council meeting, the city’s Chief Executive said the effectiveness of a lockdown cannot be measured by the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases found, after the four overnight lockdowns on Monday did not detect any positive case.

“Every time we choose to seal off an area for tests, the decision is based on science. 

“In the field of public health, success is not defined by curing a disease but to prevent the disease from happening in the first place, especially infectious diseases, so a lot of the work is prevention so as to get ahead of transmissions,” said Mrs Lam.

Her comments followed the lifting at noon on Tuesday of the four lockdowns, in operations which saw about 1,700 residents acceding to compulsory Covid-19 testing. 

The government had on Monday night sealed off some buildings in Yau Ma Tei, Tsim Sha Tsui, Yuen Long and Hung Hom to get people there tested. 

Out of the 150 units where residents did not answer the door, some were vacant.

In a reminder, the government on Tuesday urged residents to comply with the compulsory testing order, saying it may resort to legal action if households refuse to cooperate. 
It said it could apply to a magistrate for a warrant to break into and forcefully enter a unit, to remove the occupants.

Before the Monday night lockdowns, Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung had announced a series of aggressive actions over a 10-day stretch to curb the pandemic ahead of the Chinese New Year festivities.

It came despite pressure on the government to ease restrictions on businesses and schools. 

Mr Cheung said that officials would mount at least one operation per day in different districts, depending on the pandemic situation. They are to also decide this week how face-to-face lessons in schools can be resumed gradually after the festivities.

Mr Cheung said the government had further lowered the threshold for compulsory testing for buildings.

From Feb 1, if one or more new confirmed cases with unknown sources are found in developments, or if sewage samples test positive for Covid-19, the buildings would be included in the compulsory testing notice.

If two or more confirmed cases are found in the workplace, Mr Cheung said these places will also be included in the compulsory testing notice.

Police patrol the streets while wearing protective gear in Hong Kong on Jan 24, 2021. PHOTO: AFP

Mrs Lam said that the Monday night operations were “kept secret, focused and shortened”, adding that the locations were determined by the Food and Health Secretary Sophia Chan.

Professor Chan on Tuesday also issued a compulsory testing notice for the close to 70,000 individuals working at the airport.

The government has appointed the Airport Authority Hong Kong to implement the testing schemes. They include a one-off compulsory test for airport staff and voluntary regular tests for specified frontline staff.

The free voluntary testing scheme for all airport staff, introduced in May 2020, will also continue. 

Hong Kong on Tuesday added 25 confirmed cases, bringing the total to 10,511 and 183 deaths.
In the past two weeks, the city added 822 cases of which 774 were local and 305 were from unknown sources.