Hong Kong’s current Covid-19 social distancing rules are set to remain in place until at least June 29, the city’s incumbent leader said on Tuesday. The anti-epidemic measures are expected to remain in place until July, when the next chief executive takes the helm.

carrie lam june 7 2022
Photo: Screenshot via GovHK.

During her weekly press briefing, Lam said that authorities were “a little bit concerned” by the current Covid-19 situation in the city. Infections have risen slightly in recent days, with the real-time effective reproductive number for each infection rising above one in late May.

“It is a bit too early to say that we are now confronting a sixth wave of [the] Covid-19 epidemic because there needs to be a lot more indicators in order to confirm the situation,” Lam said.

Made with Flourish

The current situation did not warrant the tightening of social distancing rules, Lam said, but there would be no further relaxations before June 29, when the measures are next up for review. Lam, whose term as chief executive will end on June 30, said that health officials would discuss the possibility of extending restrictions with the incoming administration to cover the transition period of the government.

“I will ask the Food and Health Bureau to liaise with the Office of the Chief Executive-elect to see if they agree with extending [the social distancing rules] for another 14 days, or fewer than 14 days… The new administration can then decide what to do with the social distancing rules,” Lam said.

Stepping up testing and inspection

In the meantime, Lam’s government will strengthen anti-epidemic efforts such as contact-tracing, inspecting premises, and testing high-risk groups such as restaurant staff and teachers.

mask coronavirus covid social distancing
File photo: May James/HKFP.

The leader also said the city’s vaccination programme had played a part in successfully keeping the number of critical or severe Covid cases and the hospitalisation rate at a low level. She said around 60 per cent of people eligible for a Covid vaccine have received their third jab, but that figure could be further boosted.

When asked what the government would do to ramp up the second- and third-dose vaccination rates in elderly homes, Lam said that an outreach team was working on it. However, progress had been hindered because many residents had been infected in the fifth wave and needed to wait for a period of time before receiving their next dose of a Covid-19 vaccine.

covid-19 coronavirus vaccine
Covid-19 vaccine. Photo: GovHK.

She said that society had “learnt a hard lesson” of not vaccinating the elderly quickly enough, adding that “it’s not just entirely the government’s issue.”

“I’m sure you remember for a time, many of the relatives and the family members of these elderly residents resisted the vaccination for their elderly people,” Lam said.

Possible Xi Jinping visit

On Monday, local media reported that Lam and other top officials could be put under a “close-loop” quarantine arrangement ahead of a possible visit by Chinese leader Xi Jinping on the 25th anniversary of the city’s handover from Britain to China on July 1.

Lam on Tuesday said she could not confirm Xi’s visit but said that authorities were “doing everything in their power to create an environment suitable for such a visit by the state leader.”

Lam said that Hong Kong hoped Xi could visit to mark the milestone anniversary, adding that the leader could help direct the city’s future development.

Hong Kong has recorded a total of 1,215,696 Covid-19 cases and 9,386 deaths since the pandemic begun.

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Almond Li is a Hong Kong-based journalist who previously worked for Reuters and Happs TV as a freelancer, and as a reporter at Hong Kong International Business Channel, Citizen News and Commercial Radio Hong Kong. She earned her Masters in Journalism at the University of Southern California. She has an interest in LGBT+, mental health and environmental issues.