Changes to Covid-related restrictions and a proposed pay rise for civil servants will be handled by the city’s next administration, outgoing Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam has said.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam meeting the press on June 14, 2022. Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

The pandemic dominated Lam’s last weekly press briefing as leader on Tuesday. She noted a recent rise in Covid infections, but said that the number of people who were hospitalised or were in a serious condition had not increased greatly. She added that the increase in cases had not put too much pressure to the public healthcare system.

Lam said she was aware of the pleas from the public, especially from the business sector, to further ease social distancing measures, including relaxing quarantine and testing requirements. But she said the government had “stood its ground,” and decided the current rules would remain in place until June 29, with further arrangements to be made by incoming leader John Lee, who will be sworn in on July 1.

“It is not a question of whether I and my team have the political will to make that decision. Making a decision is not too difficult. But we have to appreciate and assess the effectiveness or the consequences of that decision,” Lam said.

“If I were, or we were, to relax the quarantine rules tomorrow, but then in two weeks time, the new government decided that perhaps this need to be reverted to a more tightened control, that would create a lot of confusion and uncertainty for a lot of people.”

A banner showing 25th anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover to China. Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

Lam added that her administration was still “doing all they can” to create a suitable environment – referring to the Covid situation in the city – for a visit from Chinese leader Xi Jinping. But she reiterated that she could not confirm the state leader’s trip.

Civil servants salary adjustment

The chief executive also, for the first time, confirmed that her administration would not deal with the salary adjustment for civil servants. A pay trend survey released in May advised offering pay rises ranging from 2.04 per cent to 7.26 per cent for Hong Kong’s public servants, depending on their rank.

Photo: Almond Li/HKFP.

Union representatives earlier urged Lam’s government to implement the proposed change. But Lam on Tuesday defended the decision to leave the matter to her successor.

“I know some of the civil servants and union groups were disappointed. But I can assure you… this administration does not avoid issues. We promptly take actions if there are issues to tackle. But we want to leave room for the next government to make the decision – one that will affect its future governance.”

Press freedom

During her final press briefing, Lam said the platform had allowed her to address public concerns and media enquiries in a timely manner. A press briefing was held every Tuesday, ahead of her meeting with the Executive Council.

“Every time I stand here, I am always willing to answer your questions,” Lam said on Tuesday.

Lam took four questions from media outlets on Tuesday. Before leaving the podium for the final time, she thanked the press and wished journalists “all the best.”

Chief Executive Carrie Lam meeting the press on June 14, 2022. Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

Lam has repeatedly said that Hong Kong’s press freedom remains intact, despite a number of crackdowns on media outlets. At least four major independent news outlets have closed down in the past year – Apple Daily, Stand News, Citizen News, and investigative platform Factwire, which announced its disbandment last Friday.

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Almond Li

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.