The head of the Hong Kong Police Force has defended officers’ enforcement of Covid-19 rules while attending a district council meeting on Tuesday. After the meeting, Commissioner of Police Raymond Siu told the press that the Force would reach “total mobilisation” for the 25 anniversary of the city’s handover to China, and that a new counter-terrorism reporting hotline had already received more than 1,000 calls.
Siu attended the North District Council meeting to brief councillors on crime data in the district. He was also asked to explain the relationship between police enforcement actions and control of the disease and the effectiveness of anti-epidemic work in the North District, according to the meeting’s agenda.
During the meeting, the chairperson of the council Jasper Law asked Siu about the appropriateness of police efforts to enforce Covid-19 rules and the actual pandemic situation.
Referring to data provided by the police and health authorities, Law said the force had issued more than 800 fines – each worth HK$5,000 – for violations of public gathering restrictions and mask mandates in the North District since the beginning of the pandemic in early 2020, totalling HK$4 million in fines. Some 200 penalties were handed out in the latter half of 2021, when the city had almost no known community transmission.
To date, Law said nearly 30,000 people in the North District had been infected with Covid-19, and questioned whether law enforcement had been of “any help” in stopping transmission of the virus.
Law also said that the fixed fine often exceeded half of what low income groups earned a month. “It means less for the rich but more for the poor,” Law said.
“Under these ‘evil’ anti-epidemic laws, the operation of the society and the interactions among people were largely hindered,” Law added.
In response, Siu said it was necessary for the police to strictly enforce existing laws and he “absolutely disagreed” with Law’s accusation that the mask wearing and public gathering rules were “evil.”
Siu said the regulations were set up to “protect everyone’s health” and “most citizens would not agree” with Law.
“The fight [against Covid-19]… cannot be won by the government or law enforcement bodies alone, the public also shares a responsibility.” Siu said, adding that it was important for people to wear masks and adopt social distancing to reduce transmission risks.
The pro-democracy camp won 15 seats of the 22 seats at the North District Council in 2019. However, most stepped down after being charged under the national security law over an unofficial legislative primary or before they were asked to swear oaths of allegiance to the government.
Of the 10 remaining councillors, seven were from the pro-establishment camp.
‘Total mobilisation’ on July 1
When meeting the press after attending the district council meeting, Siu said the police had been planning its operation for the 25th anniversary of the city’s handover since the beginning of last year.
Siu said the Force would be at “total mobilisation” on July 1 to “make sure there is no room for error.”
Apart from frontline officers and special forces, Siu said plainclothes officers would be deployed. Supporting staff and auxiliary police will also be mobilised.
Siu added that police would continue to closely monitor social media and urged the public to report any suspicious persons, events or objects.
As of Monday night, the Force had received over 1,100 reports on its new counter-terrorism hotline set up last Wednesday, Siu said. “We think it is absolutely necessary to follow some of these messages up,” Siu said.
Birthday party scandal
During the district council meeting, Law also brought up Siu’s presence at the birthday party of Witman Hung, Hong Kong’s delegate to the National People’s Congress, when the city was at the beginning of its fifth-wave of Covid-19.
More than 200 people – including 15 government officials – attended the event, and Siu was among about 170 of them who were sent to a quarantine camp.
A government investigation revealed in April that six attendees were fined for violating Covid-19 rules. Their names were not revealed.
Law said he “absolutely supports” the commissioner’s right to exchange views on police policies “while drinking and singing.” “The commissioner might have broken the law, but he had done nothing wrong for sure,” Law said.
Siu said that he was proved innocent through the investigation and it was wrong for the council chair to say he might have breached the law.
The police chief also said Law would know he had no interest in alcohol if the district councillor “had paid more attention to the community and to police work within it.”