A leading Hong Kong microbiologist has retracted his statement criticising outgoing health minister and former nurse Sophia Chan’s “slow” Covid-19 response. It came after 22 nursing schools and groups issued a joint statement demanding an apology over what they saw as an insult to the professional abilities of nurses.

Ho Pak-leung
Ho Pak-leung. File photo: RTHK screenshot.

Ho Pak-leung of the University of Hong Kong (HKU) said on Commercial Radio on Tuesday that he never intended to make a connection between the nursing profession and the government’s performance in curbing the spread of the coronavirus.

The scholar was referring to remarks he made last week, when he said that the anti-epidemic efforts of governments around the world were led by doctors, while Hong Kong’s Covid fight was led by Chan, who has a background in nursing.

Chan was “slow” to grasp information about the pandemic and her command was “not on point,” Ho said, adding that it had led to heavy casualties during the fifth wave, during which more than 1 million people were infected and more than 9,000 died.

His comments prompted the Hong Kong Academy of Nursing and 21 other nursing institutions and groups to issue a joint statement on Monday, slamming the HKU microbiologist’s view that nurses could not take up leadership roles in the health system as “seriously outdated” and “extremely biased.”

Sophia Chan
Sophia Chan. Photo: GovHK.

The nursing groups said Ho had put all the blame on one government official and “misjudged” the “ineffectiveness” of the city’s anti-Covid policies as being linked to Chan’s background. They demanded Ho apologise to the nursing sector and the general public.

“These statements intend to deceive the citizens and the general public, deliberately trampling upon the professional abilities of nurses,” the statement read.

Ho said on Tuesday that the controversy surrounding his remarks was a “misunderstanding.” He said he would retract his statement mentioning Chan’s background as a nurse, adding he wanted to focus on giving advice to the public regarding the pandemic and helping Hong Kong “return to normal.”

“I really want to resolve this… I did not think and I had no intention to draw a causal relationship between the profession and the government’s performance,” he said, adding that residents could see for themselves how the government had performed in fighting the pandemic.

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Kelly Ho has an interest in local politics, education and sports. She formerly worked at South China Morning Post Young Post, where she specialised in reporting on issues related to Hong Kong youth. She has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, with a second major in Politics and Public Administration.