A Hong Kong TV station has apologised after their reporter asked authorities how mainland Chinese medics treating local Covid-19 patients will be held accountable in the event of a medical mishap.

mainland medics Covid-19
Hong Kong officials, including Chief Executive Carrie Lam, welcome mainland medics at the border. Photo: GovHK.

The apology came after state-backed newspaper Ta Kung Pao claimed on Thursday that the NowTV reporter had triggered “public anger” with her question, citing an online petition condemning her conduct as unprofessional and a possible violation of the national security law.

“We are deeply sorry that the question about mainland medics at yesterday’s Covid-19 press briefing caused concern and discontent among citizens,” the statement read. “The fifth-wave outbreak is still severe, and we are extremely thankful to the central government and the mainland’s selfless support.”

The question, asked at a Wednesday afternoon Covid-19 press conference held by the Centre for Health Protection and the Hospital Authority, was in response to news that another batch of medics had arrived in Hong Kong to help treat Covid patients.

The reporter asked how a patient would be able to lodge a complaint if there were a medical mishap while being treated by a mainland medic.

HKFP has reached out to NowTV for comment.

‘A very reasonable question’

As Hong Kong continues to record daily Covid-19 cases in the tens of thousands, the city has solicited the assistance of the mainland in getting the outbreak under control.

Authorities said at the end of February that they had invoked emergency powers to allow mainland doctors and nurses to practice in the city, bypassing licensing regulations.

Ronson Chan, chair of the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA), told HKFP that the query was “very reasonable.”

Ronson Chan
Chairperson of the Hong Kong Journalists Association Ronson Chan outside the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Courts after four members of staff from Apple Daily were denied bail on July 22, 2021. Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

“It’s absolutely right for the reporter to ask top officials to answer this, in front of the public.”

The NowTV reporter is not the only journalist who has posed the question about medical accountability to the authorities. When the first batch of 75 medics arrived on Monday, four reporters – from iCable, TVB, AM730 and Ming Pao – asked the Hospital Authority (HA) at an afternoon Covid-19 briefing that day about whether there will be a mechanism to hold imported medics accountable in the event of an incident.

In all four instances, Lau Ka-hin, a chief manager at the HA, skirted the question.

At a Wednesday morning Covid-19 briefing led by Chief Executive Carrie Lam, another NowTV reporter also asked the question. Neither Lam nor health chief Sophia Chan responded directly.

Carrie Lam
Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam leads a press briefing on the Covid-19 situation. Photo: GovHK.

“We must be grateful to the mainland medics for putting down their own work… and leaving their family behind to come to Hong Kong and help us treat patients,” Lam said.

Hong Kong’s Hospital Authority has said it will take “ultimate responsibility” if any of the newly-arrived Chinese doctors and nurses are the cause of any medical mishaps. 

On pro-Beijing Facebook pages, netizens accused the NowTV reporter of being unappreciative of mainland aid. In recent weeks, mainland construction workers have built facilities to house Covid-19 patients in a stable condition. Chinese medicine that authorities claim can treat Covid-19, as well as medical supplies like thermometers and oximeters, have also arrived from across the border.

In a later statement, the HKJA said: “As we fight the epidemic… the media’s responsibility is to let the public know the full picture of the anti-epidemic measures through reporting and asking questions,” adding that the question about accountability was in the public interest.

“The association sincerely hopes that people do not provoke confrontation between the media and the public, or view the work of journalists through a personal political stance.”

Chan, the HKJA chair, told HKFP the reporter’s question cannot be conflated with opposing mainland help.

“It’s not related. To say that asking this question means not supporting mainland assistance is to make a mountain out of a molehill,” he said.

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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.