Many local organisations have been seriously inconvenienced by the rules against public gatherings. Some people have been fined for breaches of the rules. Yet one organisation continues to organise events at which large numbers of people breathe the same air.

Chief Executive, Carrie Lam, visited the Caroline Hill Road Pop-up Community Vaccination Centre on March 29. Photo: GovHK.

I am not too concerned about whether all this is legal or not. Clearly if you are the chief executive of the Hong Kong SAR that is not in practice a worry.

But it does seem that senior government officials are still eagerly engaging in all the usual visits, “inspections” and opening ceremonies, at a time when the rest of us are being urged to stay at home and avoid contact with our fellow beings, for health reasons.

No doubt they will say that these are important functions, that they are good for staff morale, and give top bureaucrats an opportunity to see on the ground the effect of their stratospheric deliberations on strategy. And this is important.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam visited the HKU Children Community Vaccination Centre at Gleneagles Hospital Hong Kong on March 18. Photo: GovHK.

But it is really? In my working days I remember visits, inspections and ceremonial occasions as rather an extra burden than a pleasure. Days of work preparing to make a good impression, much of it wasted, followed by the mysterious appearance of all sorts of people otherwise rarely seen.

Government visits are by all accounts even worse – though somewhat shorter – than that gruesome academic ritual the “validation visit”. Professors did not, at least, require a lift and a toilet to be reserved for their use while they were in the building.

I realise it is difficult to follow the rules if you are accompanied everywhere by two bodyguards. You are over the Covid limit as soon as you step out of the car. Also when you are touring someone else’s building, quite a lot of people will wish to be present.

Chief Secretary for Administration, John Lee, visited the fifth community isolation facility constructed with mainland support at Hung Shui Kiu in Yuen Long on March 17. Photo: GovHK.

On the other hand this means that an awful lot of people are not doing their usual work, whatever that is, while they are showing you round. You are, in effect, just an interruption. And I doubt that there will be any compensating boost to morale from visits by officials whose popularity – or lack of it – has plumbed depths unexplored even by Mr CY Leung.

Also, whatever you can say for these occasions, there is a painful discrepancy here. At a time when organisations of all kinds have had to suspend their activities, when children facing important exams are studying via Zoom, when underpaid helpers are being fined a month’s salary for meeting in a group of three, is it acceptable – is it nice? – for senior government officials to be pictured touring their empires in large groups, accompanied by shoals of assistants, deputies, pilot fish and small horses of all kinds?

We all have to make sacrifices. We are, after all, at war, as Lam regularly reminds us. This is not the time for official tourism.


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Tim Hamlett

Tim Hamlett came to Hong Kong in 1980 to work for the Hong Kong Standard and has contributed to, or worked for, most of Hong Kong's English-language media outlets, notably as the editor of the Standard's award-winning investigative team, as a columnist in the SCMP and as a presenter of RTHK's Mediawatch. In 1988 he became a full-time journalism teacher. Since officially retiring nine years ago, he has concentrated on music, dance, blogging and a very time-consuming dog.