Hong Kong’s largest opposition political party, the Democratic Party, has called on the city’s Chief Executive John Lee to relax or remove “unnecessary” Covid-19 measures in his upcoming policy address, such as scrapping the outdoor mask mandate.

The Democratic Party introduces its suggestions on the upcoming policy address on September 14. Photo: Peter Lee/HKFP.

Lee is scheduled to deliver his first-ever policy address on October 19. A government statement announcing the launch of the public consultation period on July 25 said about 30 consultation sessions would be hosted to gather views from lawmakers, sector representatives and members of the public.

Separately from the government-organised sessions, the Democratic Party met the press on Wednesday afternoon to introduce its proposals for the policy address, titled “Hong Kong back to normalcy.”

Speaking first, party chair Lo Kin-hei said Hong Kong had been facing “immense challenges” to its international status as a financial, logistics and exhibition hub.

He also cited the remarks made by Chinese leader Xi Jinping when Xi visited the city for the 25th anniversary of its Handover from Britain to China. “Hong Kong must retain its unique status and advantages,” Xi said, adding that the city’s administration should “practically solve the concerns and difficulties in people’s lives.”

Echoing Lo, Raymon Yuen, a party policy spokesperson, said the government should relax its anti-epidemic measures to maintain the city’s competitiveness internationally as well as its attractiveness.

Ramon Yuen, a policy spokesperson of the Democratic Party. Photo: Peter Lee/HKFP.

“[Authorities] should cancel or relax all social distancing measures that are unnecessary or without sufficient scientific justification,” Yuen said. He suggested scrapping the outdoor mask mandate, setting an expiry date for the Vaccine Pass scheme, and making the current quarantine requirements for mainland arrivals a standard for all inbound travellers.

Citing a study on some 7,000 Covid-19 cases from Hong Kong, Taiwan and various Chinese cities in the early months of the pandemic, Yuen said only two patients were found to have contracted the virus while talking with others outdoors.

“From the beginning of 2020 until now, the number of outdoor transmissions we can actually identify have been very small,” he said, adding that the government had never warned the public of major outdoor outbreaks in the city.

Additionally, Yuen said that relaxing the Covid-19 border measures would not increase the risk of the virus spreading in Hong Kong as local infection numbers have long exceeded imported cases.

He also said the Vaccine Pass scheme should be ceased in the near future, as more than 90 per cent of residents had already received two jabs.

Let people vote

As the government mulls reforming the District Council, Lo urged the chief executive to continue to allow the public to elect District Councillors through direct polls.

The Democratic Party. Photo: Peter Lee/HKFP.

“The polling mechanism has been a very important part of the District Council for people to express their views,” Lo said.

He said that members of the Democratic Party would be inclined to run in the upcoming District Council election, slated for November 2023, but it would ultimately depend on what changes were implemented to the electoral system. Some party members were still working as District Councillors, Lo added.

Lo said the administration should act on the promises in the Basic Law and implement universal suffrage in both the leadership poll and legislature elections. “We still very much believe that when there is a higher level of public participation, people’s recognition of the system will be higher.”

The pro-democracy group also urged the government to pardon young people who had been arrested over the 2019 protests and unrest, saying that it would help reengage with the younger generation and begin to remedy their relationship with the authorities.

Lo Kin-hei, the chairperson of the Democratic Party. Photo: Peter Lee/HKFP.

Apart from politics and Covid-19 measures, the party also voiced its objection to the two large-scale land development plans that have been put in motion – Lantau Tomorrow Vision and the Northern Metropolis – as well as advocating for HK$12,000 consumption vouchers for all permanent residents in the upcoming year.

‘Listen to Hong Kong people’

When HKFP asked if they were worried that their suggestions would be overlooked by the chief executive, Lo said their main concern in that instance would be that the authorities were ignoring “sensible opinions.”

“Because all those opinions that we gave… to the Hong Kong government are recommendations that we truly believe [would be] for the benefit of Hong Kong people.”

“I hope that the government will listen to Hong Kong people,” he said.

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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.