Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam has announced that the majority of government employees will return to work at their offices next Monday, while public facilities will partially reopen under the premise that coronavirus regulations governing social gatherings are respected.
Speaking to the press before the Executive Council meeting on Tuesday, Lam said the government would resume public services in two phases. Most civil servants would end their special work arrangement, which had been imposed and lifted several times since late January, after Hong Kong recorded its first covid-19 infection.
But the arrangement was not applicable to workers in schools – since classes were still suspended – as well as those working in some venues managed by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department. Government recreational and cultural facilities were temporarily closed in February and opened again in early March, only to be shut down once more later that month, as the government tightened its policy on social distancing.
Lam said the government would reopen outdoor sports facilities, libraries and museums, under the condition that the ban on gatherings of more than four people would not be breached. Normal operating hours would also be resumed at public counter and enquiry services.
“The above mentioned arrangements do not mean we are relaxing all epidemic preventive measures. Instead, with the increased flow of people, we would further consolidate these preventive measures,” Lam said.
Lam’s announcement came after Hong Kong recorded zero new cases of Covid-19 on Monday -the fourth time in eight days. The SARS-like disease has infected 1,037 people in the city, and over three million others worldwide, according to a database maintained by the Johns Hopkins University.
Precautionary measures including body temperature checks when entering government buildings, provision of hand sanitiser and the wearing of face masks under most circumstances would be taken as government staff return to work. Civil servants may also adopt a flexible lunchtime arrangement to avoid having meals together, Lam said.
She added the second phase of a full resumption of public services – including reopening all closed venues – would be considered later.
“We have to monitor the development of the outbreak, and [see] what situation would emerge if other epidemic control measures are relaxed,” Lam said.
Anti-epidemic measures such as the social gathering ban, restrictions on eateries and the 14-day mandatory home quarantine on entries from the mainland, Macau and Taiwan are set to expire next Thursday.
Lam said the policies had a time limit and would be reviewed by the government step-by-step, to decide whether they will be extended: “Society has to pay a price for every strict control measure related to public, whether it is the economy or livelihood, a lot of inconvenience had been caused to citizens’ daily life,” Lam said, adding that Hong Kong’s policies were less stringent compared to countries that imposed a lockdown or ordered citizens to stay home.
She added the government had adopted a “suppress and lift” approach to adjust its policies based on the severity of the spread of the virus, and could not relax anti-epidemic measures all at once until a vaccine is developed.