The government’s use of a HK$150 million system to issue an emergency alert to the public about the conversion of Queen Elizabeth Hospital into a Covid-19 facility was “appropriate,” Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam said on Thursday.

“In fact, no one can doubt that we’re now in a situation with a public health emergency… why did we have to issue the alert? Because Queen Elizabeth Hospital is the leading hospital in the Kowloon Central cluster. It has the busiest Accident and Emergency (A&E) room among the Hospital Authority’s seven clusters and 17 A&E rooms,” said Lam.

An emergency alert issued by the Hong Kong government on March 9, 2022. Photo: Hillary Leung/HKFP.

The alert was issued at around 6 p.m. on Wednesday, and it was the first time the system was used after its launch by the Communications Authority in 2020.

According to the Communications Authority’s website, the Emergency Alert System is used “during emergency situations like extreme weather, serious public safety and health incidents and more to facilitate the public to adopt contingency measures quickly.”

The chief executive said that the alert was sent to prevent people from going to the hospital, as it no longer accepts non-Covid-19 patients.

Prior to the issuing of the emergency alert at around 6 p.m., Lam announced at a press conference at 11 a.m. that the facilities would be converted to care only for Covid-19 patients. Another announcement was also made during the city’s daily Covid-19 press briefing at 4.30 p.m. on Wednesday.

‘A good thing’

Following the alert, some lawmakers criticised the government’s decision. Kenneth Fok wrote on Facebook on Wednesday that “the elderly and children are scared.”

Chief Executive Carrie Lam meeting the press on March 10, 2022. Photo: RTHK, via video screenshot.

“Would the government please only consider using this function when there is a very, very pressing situation! (It’s best not to use it),” Fok’s post read.

Lam said that she also saw other reactions towards the alert, saying that “a lot of citizens said in other platforms that it is a good thing.”

“Of course when the phone rang for 10 seconds and was vibrating suddenly with people having no mental preparation, some citizens might be anxious, I hereby explain to them…,” said Lam.

The chief executive also said that people turning off the emergency alert system on their phones had “no benefit at all.”

As of Wednesday, Hong Kong has seen 527,260 cases of Covid-19 since the onset of the pandemic two years ago, and 2,578 deaths.

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Candice Chau

Candice is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. She previously worked as a researcher at a local think tank. She has a BSocSc in Politics and International Relations from the University of Manchester and a MSc in International Political Economy from London School of Economics.