Saturday marks 100 days since John Lee was inaugurated by China’s leader Xi Jinping at a closely guarded ceremony after running uncontested for the position.
Proclaiming that Hong Kong had managed to “restore order from chaos” since the enactment of the Beijing-imposed national security law, the new chief executive inherited a “patriots-only” legislature from his predecessor, and a largely muted opposition.
HKFP rounds up the achievements and shortcomings of Lee’s tenure since July 1.
Path to normalcy
Onerous Covid-19 travel restrictions, including flight bans and compulsory quarantine, have been scrapped after intense criticism from the business sector and a warning from the financial chief of a potential HK$100 billion deficit – the city’s second-ever highest.
Hong Kong had long maintained one of the world’s strictest quarantine requirements for incoming travellers, lasting for 21 days at one point.
Although the compulsory hotel quarantine has been axed, inbound travellers must still undergo three days of medical surveillance, and take four PCR tests within a week after arrival. During the surveillance period, they are banned from premises such as restaurants or bars which are subject to the Vaccine Pass scheme.
For many business owners and lawmakers, the relaxation was seen as too little too late, with many calling for the scrapping of the surveillance period.
The confirmation of an international banking summit scheduled for November has been seen as a sign that Hong Kong is moving towards unrestricted international travel. Legislative Councillor Michael Tien said the “0+0” model – a complete scrapping of travel restrictions – must be implemented for Hong Kong to regain its competitiveness.
The city’s reputation has been dealt a heavy blow by its strict Covid-19 prevention policies, with Singapore overtaking Hong Kong in international rankings as businesses and exhibitions moved away from the city.
However, the chief executive has said that “Hong Kong’s competitiveness still exists.”
Lee is set to make his first Policy Address in mid-October. As parties and lawmakers submit proposals, the chief executive is expected to announce a clearer “path to normalcy” for the city.
Social-distancing rules remain
Local social-distancing rules largely remain in place, for now at least. While restaurants are currently allowed to seat up to 12 people at a table, people are only allowed to gather outside in groups no larger than four.
Lee’s administration has stepped up vaccination efforts by expanding the Vaccine Pass scheme to children as young as five, who must now receive at least one jab before they can enter premises including restaurants, theme parks, and libraries.
Hong Kong is one of the few places in the world which requires kids to receive Covid-19 vaccinations. The World Health Organization lists healthy children in the “lowest priority” group when it comes to Covid-19 jabs.
The Hong Kong Committee on Children’s Rights has criticised the government’s decision and said it “raises serious concerns for children’s rights and welfare.”
Lee’s administration has also cracked down on false vaccine exemption certificates, identifying seven doctors who allegedly issued the documents without prior diagnosis. Six were arrested last month, and over 20,000 certificates will soon be invalidated.
Legislator Doreen Kong has questioned the legal basis of the government’s decision, and said that she “cannot stand” to see the government implementing such an “imperious” measure in a society governed by the rule of law.
Hygiene campaign and mentorship programme
As per his campaign promises, Lee has set up four task forces targeting issues ranging from public housing to inter-generational poverty.
Deputy Chief Secretary for Administration Cheuk Wing-hing became the hygiene campaign leader, as Lee followed in the footsteps of his predecessors Tung Chee-hwa and Leung Chun-ying in launching a clean-up.
Clean-up teams have cleared away obstructions such as old motorbikes on pavements, but a survey by pro-Beijing group New Youth Forum published last month showed that over 40 per cent of respondents lacked confidence in the government’s efforts on public hygiene.
The Strive and Rise Programme, a mentoring scheme designed to help lift adolescents out of intergenerational poverty, is another of Lee’s projects. The programme, led by Chief Secretary for Administration Eric Chan, aims to pair 2,000 students from poverty-stricken homes with mentors.
Applications closed last month but the Labour and Welfare Department, when asked by legislative councillors, did not disclose the number of people seeking to take part.
Questions were also raised over the scheme’s practicality, with New People’s Party lawmaker Regina Ip saying that grassroots families often lacked time and resources. She questioned what impoverished students could learn from meeting “star mentors” such as the city’s Olympic medallists and touring elite sports training facilities.
Pending reports and missing KPIs
During Lee’s first 100 days, the city saw several grave accidents, with some raising serious concerns over industrial safety standards.
In July, two dancers were hit by a large falling screen while performing at a concert by popular Hong Kong boy band Mirror. While the government was praised for its initial swift response in suspending the remaining shows and inspecting the arena, the administration has yet to deliver on its promise of an investigation report.
Secretary for Labour and Welfare Chris Sun said on Thursday the investigation was “drawing to a close,” and the results of the official probe would be announced as soon as possible.
Another investigation was launched after a crane collapsed at a construction site in Sau Mau Ping, Kwun Tong last month, killing three people and injuring six others. Sun said that investigation was still ongoing.
In his election manifesto, Lee promised to set “key performance indicators” for specific areas within his first 100 days. The former senior police officer also pledged to submit initial suggestions on speeding up the building of public housing in the same timeframe. However, no public announcements have yet been made on either matter.
A planned public housing development at Fanling golf course hit an obstacle in August when and environmental advisory body asked the government to provide more information before it could approve a report related to the project. The move could delay discussions on the development by at least seven months.
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