A medical scholar has cast doubt on a government plan to “standardise” the dissemination of Covid-19 information by its panel of expert advisers. It comes after Hong Kong’s health chief touted the move in a bid to avoid giving the public “mixed messages.”

Elderly people queue up for vaccination. File Photo: GovHK.

University of Hong Kong epidemiologist Ben Cowling said on Friday there were other ways to prevent confusion: “I think uninformed messages do have the potential to confuse the public. I am not sure that the solution is to unify behind a single message from the government,” Ben Cowling told HKFP via email.

Ben Cowling. Photo: University of Hong Kong.

“My recommendation would be to improve the communication of evidence-based messages instead of opinion-based messages. That may be achieved via more communication on public health policy issues by public health experts and less communication on public health policy issues by clinicians and virologists and immunologists.”

‘Standardise’ information dissemination

Health secretary Lo Chung-mau said on Thursday the government’s Expert Advisory Panel will, in the future, “standardise” epidemic-related information.

“We stress that the panel should have thorough internal communication before addressing the public in a systematic way,” Lo Chung-mau said, “The panel will convene its first meeting soon, very soon. Later we will standardise the dissemination of information, so the public won’t receive mixed messages from different channels.”

Secretary for Health Lo Chung-mau. Photo: GovHK.

Lo made the remark at a health panel meeting at the Legislative Council.

His comment came days after four scholars from the University of Hong Kong penned an article about easing social distancing restrictions to achieve “hybrid immunity,” allowing the city to return to normalcy. Government advisers Yuen Kwok-yung and Ivan Hung were co-authors.

Yuen Kwok-yung. File photo: GovHK.

The health secretary said the government has explained to the experts that Hong Kong’s anti-epidemic measures could not be solely decided by referencing strategies in other countries, as factors such as population, vaccination rate and public health system may be different.

Lo added that communication was made before the administration took office on July 1.

Local respiratory medicine expert David Hui, who is also on the government’s adviser panel, said he had no comment when HKFP reached out.

A government spokesperson, meanwhile, told HKFP: “As the deviser and implementer of anti-epidemic policies… the government is obliged to disseminate clear and consistent messages to the public at the right time and explain to them the rationale behind them.”

Care homes restrictions

Care home workers and visitors will face tighter testing restrictions, the government announced on Thursday.

Photo: GovHK.

Employees will have to undergo polymerase chain reaction-based (PCR) nucleic acid tests every seven days, instead of every fortnight, starting next Wednesday. Testing kits will be delivered to care homes but staff will have to take their own samples.

Visitors need a negative PCR test result obtained within 48 hours prior to the visit, starting from August 1. They also need three doses of the Covid vaccine, according to a new rule being implemented from August 28.

Hong Kong has recorded 1,313,478 Covid-19 infections and 9,454 deaths since the pandemic began.

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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.