Hong Kong’s new leader John has said his administration will not “lie flat” or allow Covid-19 to spread freely. He added that the health authorities are considering loosening some quarantine measures for uninfected overseas arrivals, as the city’s flight bans reach 100 this year.

Chief Executive John Lee attending the Legislative Council Q&A session on July 6, 2022. Photo: Lea Mok/HKFP.

The chief executive was speaking to legislators during his first Q&A session at the Legislative Complex.

“First of all, I disagree about ‘lying flat.’ [We] cannot allow confirmed cases to freely increase, ” Lee said. “When the base number becomes larger, the number of severe or death cases might also be in risks of rising accordingly.”

“Lying flat” is a term that originated in mainland China to describe disaffected youngsters who disengage from society by doing only the bare minimum required.

Lee added that inaction would mean that high-risk groups – such as the elderly and those with underlying conditions or poor immunity – would bear higher health risks.

The new leader was asked by lawmakers whether his administration can resume quarantine-free travel between the city and mainland China, or other international destinations.

Currently, seven days of quarantine in a designated hotel is compulsory. Many hotels are fully booked into the summer.

Hong Kong airport during Covid-19 restrictions in May, 2022. File photo: Tania Chan/HKFP.

In response, Lee said he understood the difficulty in fully lifting quarantine restrictions for cross-border travel with the mainland, adding that the government will communicate with the Chinese authorities with “a pragmatic attitude” and look into “interim proposals” at first.

“Therefore, as I said earlier, we have to make the risk [of infection] controllable and traceable. Only then can both parties can reach effective agreements.” Lee said.

As for international travel, Lee said the newly restructured Health Bureau is currently reviewing available data and studying how to bring convenience to arriving travellers. He added that they are researching shortening hotel quarantine and introducing efficient methods to screen visitors.

“We should be encircling the trees with disease, but not those that are healthy.” Lee said.

Flight bans reach 100 this year

Meanwhile, the Department of Health confirmed that three flights triggered Hong Kong’s Covid flight suspension system on Monday, bringing the total number of flight bans issued this year to 100.

A Cathay Pacific aircraft parked in the Hong Kong International Airport. File photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

Under the current measures, a five-day flight ban will be put in place if at least five passengers or five per cent of travellers – whichever is higher – test positive for Covid-19 upon arrival in Hong Kong.

The three passenger flights banned on Monday were operated by Emirates, Thai Airways and Qatar Airways – they departed from Dubai, Bangkok and Doha respectively. Additionally, if at least one passenger fails to produce the required documents, a flight suspension can be triggered by just three people testing positive on arrival.

On Wednesday, Hong Kong registered 2,815 new Covid-19 cases, of which 143 were imported. In all, the city has recorded 1,256,279 infections and 9,405 related deaths as of Tuesday.

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Peter Lee

Peter Lee is a reporter for HKFP. He was previously a freelance journalist at Initium, covering political and court news. He holds a Global Communication bachelor degree from CUHK.