Hong Kong has lowered its “emergency” response level for Covid-19 to “alert,” more than three years after the pandemic began.

The government said it had considered the advice of World Health Organization (WHO), which said that Covid-19 no longer constituted a public health emergency of international concern, according to the statement issued on Tuesday.

masks covid street
People wearing face masks in Central. File photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

Under the new alert level, daily Covid-related deaths and positive cases identified by laboratory nucleic acid tests will not be reported on the government website. However, the data will be announced as usual in the weekly publication, Covid-19 & Flu Express.

Meanwhile, the city’s anti-epidemic response will be steered by the Health Bureau, instead of and Anti-epidemic Steering Committee, which was chaired by the chief executive.

The Covid-19 Expert Advisory Panel, which included experts who gave advice for the response work, was disbanded, and the Emergency Response Centre under the Centre for Health Protection of the Department of Health ceased operation. The central command committee and emergency executive committee of the Hospital Authority will also suspend their work.

Hong Kong at one point maintained one of the world’s strictest Covid-19 social distancing and quarantine requirements, with gathering limits in place for almost three years.

Despite these measures keeping the coronavirus at bay for much of 2021, the city failed to encourage elderly vaccination and was unprepared for the fifth wave, led by the Omicron variant. As a result, Hong Kong had the highest Covid-19 death rate in the developed world, according to Bloomberg’s study of Johns Hopkins University data. 

medic medical doctor A&E emergency ER caritas covid covid-19 queue
Caritas Medical Centre in Sham Shui Po, Hong Kong during the fifth-wave Covid-19 outbreak. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

Restrictions including the mask mandate and vaccine pass were lifted gradually from late last year.

‘Major milestone’

“The lowering of the response level from the Emergency to Alert level marks a major milestone in Hong Kong people’s fight against the epidemic over the past three years,” a government spokesperson said.

The government launched a response mechanism in the early stage of the pandemic, activating a “serious” response level on January 4. Three weeks later, the response level was raised to emergency, which then lasted for three years.

“The WHO has pointed out that the pandemic is still ongoing. Meanwhile, the activity level of COVID-19 in Hong Kong still remains high,” the spokesperson said.

According to the latest Covid-19 & Flu Express, the daily number of newly recorded positive Covid-19 cases between May 21 to 24 ranged from 467 to 554. There were 144 severe cases including deaths in the same period.

Hospital Authority
Hospital Authority. File photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

From January 30 to May 24, the cumulative number of infections and fatal cases were 26,503 and 429 respectively.

“The government will therefore continue to closely monitor the latest situation and risks… and keep a close watch of the WHO’s latest assessments, making every effort to safeguard public health.”

Meanwhile, public hospitals also lowered their response level from emergency to alert, the Hospital Authority announced in a separate statement on Tuesday.

The Special Chinese Medicine Programme for Covid-19 patients provided at the North Lantau Hospital Hong Kong Infection Control Centre was also suspended.

However, patients, visitors and staff members are still required to wear face masks in public hospitals and clinics.

Support HKFP  |  Policies & Ethics  |  Error/typo?  |  Contact Us  |  Newsletter  | Transparency & Annual Report | Apps

Help safeguard press freedom & keep HKFP free for all readers by supporting our team

contribute to hkfp methods
YouTube video

Support press freedom & help us surpass 1,000 monthly Patrons: 100% independent, governed by an ethics code & not-for-profit.

Success! You're on the list.

Mandy Cheng is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. Previously, she worked at Ming Pao, focusing on investigative and feature reporting. She also contributed to Cable TV and others.