The Hong Kong Police Force have defended their requests for protective equipment during the coronavirus outbreak, amid criticism that they had been granted more gear than seven other frontline government departments, including – in some cases – the health department.
On Saturday, pro-democracy lawmaker Kwok Ka-ki claimed that officers had not participated in tackling the SARS-like outbreak, yet had been given large quantities of protective gear: “The coverall suits that the police need are 20 times more [in quantity] than the Department of Health,” Kwok said.
On Sunday, Apple Daily published a document appearing to show that the force received 13,780 N95 respirators, whilst the Department of Health received only 256 – despite recent complaints of a shortage. The Force also received 3,628 litres of bleach from the Government Logistics Department, whilst the Food and Environment Hygiene Department and the Fire Services Department received none.
Along with surgical masks, the force received more protective gear than seven other departments which had frequent contact with potentially infected persons, according to the document. Other departments included the Customs and Excise Department, the Immigration Department, Social Welfare Department, Fire Services Department and RTHK.
The document also estimated what supplies would be needed in the coming two months. For protective coverall suits, it predicted that the police will use 44,000, while the Department of Health would need 2,482 pieces.
Over 71,000 people have been infected worldwide by the new strain of virus known as Covid-19. It has spread to more than two dozen countries, killing over 1,770 people, including one in Hong Kong.
In a video posted on their Facebook page on Sunday, the Force slammed the allegations as “fake news” and “misinformation.” Superintendent Louis Lau said a large quantity of supplies were needed for the force’s 40,000 officers, whose daily work involves a lot of contact with the general public.
“We are definitely the government department that has the most contact with the general public. The hygiene risks in our work are not low at all,” he said.
According to Lau, most police officers are given one face mask per day, and they only have supplies for one more week. He added the coveralls that officers had been seen wearing came from their reserves, and the Force have not taken any from the Government Logistics Department during the outbreak.
“In face of the outbreak, if the police cannot protect ourselves, how can we protect the citizens?” Lau asked.
Lau said the Force had been actively involved in curbing the outbreak, including stationing officers at border control points and quarantine centres, assisting in the evacuation of households in Hong Mei House in Tsing Yi where there was a suspected community outbreak, as well as investigating face mask scams.
At a press conference on Sunday, Chuang Shuk-kwan, head of the Communicable Disease Branch of the Centre for Health Protection, said the centre did not know how many face masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE) the Department of Health had. She also refused to comment on the requests on protective gear by other departments.