Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam said on Tuesday the recent rise in Covid-19 infections has “nothing to do with ethnicity” after a senior official at the Centre for Health Protection suggested that ethnic minorities were engaging in “behaviour that put them at risk.”

“There is absolutely no suggestion of the spread of disease relating to race or ethnicity,” Lam said.

Photo: GovHK.

She however said environmental factors did make certain groups more likely to contract the virus. “Social behaviours, living conditions, workplace hygiene are factors that will make certain people more vulnerable to catching this virus.”

Lam’s comments came a day after Raymond Ho, head of the Centre for Health Protection’s health promotion branch, suggested the city’s ethnic minorities were at a higher risk of spreading the virus.

“They have many family gatherings and like to gather with fellow countrymen. They like to share food, smoke, drink alcohol and chat together,” Ho said on Monday. “If it is without masks, the risk is high. They also need to share sanitary facilities with neighbours if the living environment is crowded.”

Photo: GovHK.

Hong Kong’s daily infection figure rose sharply to 107 on Monday, 102 of which were locally transmitted cases. More than a quarter of the city’s 661 locally-transmitted cases since January 4 were of South Asian descent. The Centre for Health Protection has vowed to strengthen anti-epidemic education for ethnic minorities.

Authorities have also bolstered compulsory testing measures in Yau Tsim Mong district.

Lam on Tuesday urged the public to refrain from blaming authorities or certain groups for the rise in infections. “I really appeal to all of you, this is not an occasion to apportion blame. The Covid-19 pandemic is unprecedented… I would not put any blame on anybody,” the chief executive said.

‘Blatantly racialised narrative’

Associate professor at the University of Hong Kong Puja Kapai told HKFP that Ho’s comments put forward a “blatantly racialised narrative” which would alienate ethnic minorities from the wider community: “The behaviour Dr. Ho outlines as culturally specific forms of socialisation is behaviour that all communities of all backgrounds engage in. How can family gatherings, walking with friends, eating, drinking alcohol, smoking and chatting be defined as behaviours unique to particular ethnic groups?”

“This blatantly racialised narrative undermines our collective efforts to fight the virus by sowing fear and paranoia targeting ethnic minority groups, implicating them to be super-spreaders. …This is most unfortunate because the need of the hour is to focus on assisting these communities as best as we can. However, these types of comments will only serve to isolate ethnic minorities even further,” she added.

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