Chief Executive Carrie Lam has likened Hong Kong’s fight against the fifth wave of Covid-19 to a “wartime environment,” and said that existing laws would not stand in the way of the city’s anti-epidemic efforts.

“In an environment as urgent as this, we cannot let existing laws stop us from doing what we should do,” Lam said during a Tuesday evening press conference. “This is not the mentality for fighting a war.”

Carrie Lam
Chief Executive Carrie Lam entering the Legislative Council Chamber on January 12, 2022. Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

Lam was responding to a question from a reporter about whether sending Covid-19 test samples collected during the upcoming citywide compulsory testing to mainland China for analysis would breach any laws relating to the transfer of genetic material across the city’s border.

Some “genetic elements” are regulated under Hong Kong’s import and export regulations.

“I trust that we have all seen many war movies. In war, there is no sense in talking about procedure and reviewing things layer by layer,” Lam said.

The chief executive announced on Tuesday that the city will carry out compulsory Covid-19 testing of all citizens in March in an attempt to slow the spread of the virus, which has gripped Hong Kong in the past two months. Lam said that Covid-19 test samples “might” be sent to the mainland for processing.

covid-19 testing booths lei tung
Covid-19 testing booths in Lei Tung, Sha Tin. Photo: Hillary Leung/HKFP

Three rounds of testing will be done and up to 1 million tests will be conducted per day, Lam said.

Ambulance services on ‘verge of crumbling’

Meanwhile, the Fire Services Department said on Tuesday that the onslaught of Covid-19 cases had severely hampered their ambulance services, and appealed to the public to only call for help if necessary.

The ambulance on-time rate of arriving at an emergency site within 12 minutes had dropped to an “unprecedented low,” the department wrote on Facebook. Only 38.5 per cent of ambulances arrived within the 12-minute window, down from its promised rate of 92.5 per cent, although it did not give a timeframe for the decline in its on-time arrival rate.

ambulane covid
An Fire Services Department ambulance. Photo: Fire Services Department via Facebook

“The department understands the anxiety of suspected Covid-19 patients, but with the soaring case numbers, ambulance services are on the verge of crumbling,” the department wrote.

Tong Sze-ho, chairman of the Fire Services Department Ambulance Officers Association, said last week that it could take up to three hours to complete a call involving a Covid-19 patient due to the time needed to sanitise the ambulance.

‘An extremely challenging development’

Lam also said during Tuesday’s briefing that schools would break early for the summer so that campuses could be used as premises for testing, quarantine and vaccination purposes.

Covid-19 school student classroom
A Hong Kong school. Photo: GovHK.

The summer holiday will start from March, with classes resuming after Easter break.

The announcement was met with shock, and schools and parents said that the abrupt change would cause significant disruption to students.

Speaking on Commercial Radio on Wednesday morning, Eva Charisa Hsu, the principal of Fukien Secondary School Affiliated School, said the education sector had not been informed of the move beforehand. “We all thought we misheard,” Hsu said.

HKTA. The Yuen Yuen Institute No.3 Secondary School
HKTA. The Yuen Yuen Institute No.3 Secondary School. File photo: Exploringlife, via Wikicommons,

She said she hoped that the government would release more details on what the campuses would be used for, adding that schools lack the ability to carry out professional deep cleaning themselves.

“If [the government] borrows spaces from that many schools, are there enough cleaning service providers to help with disinfection?”

Summer holidays will also be brought ahead for international schools. Belinda Greer, CEO of the English School Foundations, which runs around 20 schools in the city, said in an email to parents that the announcement was “clearly an extremely challenging development.”

She added that she would meet with the Education Bureau for more clarity on how this will affect the schools’ operations.

The city has recorded 66,574 cases and at least 350 deaths since the pandemic began.

Additional reporting: Peter Lee

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Hillary has an interest in social issues and politics. Previously, she reported on Asia broadly - including on Hong Kong's 2019 protests - for TIME Magazine and covered local news at Coconuts Hong Kong.