Ip wears red face after mask claim rejected

Top News | Angel Kwan 11 Feb 2020

The government last night rejected out of hand any idea that mandatory controls over the supply and prices of surgical masks are in the legislative works.

In doing so it administered a resounding slap to Executive Councillor Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee, who less than 12 hours earlier had gone on radio to talk at length about how emergency legislation could be introduced within weeks.

But a government spokesman said regulating the sales will not be addressing the problem of a shortage of masks at source.

"As the supply of surgical masks is tight in the short run, the government considers that it is more pragmatic to strive to increase supply of surgical masks and manage the demand," he said.

Among other things, that sees the SAR collaborating with mainland authorities to streamline systems so that masks are delivered faster to the Hong Kong market.

Ip had claimed the administration was studying the possibility of introducing legislation to control the import, distribution, retailing, stocking and pricing of masks.

Among other things it would mean pharmacies and other retailers could not sell masks at sky-high prices, instead being restricted to mark-ups of 10 percent at most.

The chairwoman of the New People's Party even said that she understood a government legal team was working on a legislative proposal.

Ip also addressed the 14-day mandatory quarantine, noting that it relies mainly on people's self-discipline and so it "certainly has loopholes" and cannot be made flawless.

She suggested that additional manpower from the disciplined services be used to perform surprise checks on those under compulsory quarantine.

Ip said Hong Kong authorities face more difficulties in combating the virus than Macau due to a loss in credibility since last year's social unrest over the extradition bill.

The administration could also have faced opposition even if compulsory quarantine measures had been imposed last month, she added.

Meanwhile, the Association of Hong Kong Nursing Staff will decide today whether to strike over how authorities are handling the virus. That follows a five-day strike held by the Hospital Authority Employees Alliance last week.

Ip urged the association to put any plans on hold, saying she believed anyone affected by a strike could apply for an injunction.

Although Article 27 of the Basic Law states that residents have the freedom to strike, Ip argued that the right is not absolute and could be restricted in the event of a public health emergency.

Ip said her party is studying the possibility of filing civil claims against the alliance.

Singapore has also seen panic buying of daily necessities after it raised its disease outbreak response system condition to orange on Friday.

From Sunday, shoppers at all outlets of supermarket chain NTUC FairPrice have been restricted to buying four packs of paper products, two bags of rice and four bundle packs of instant noodles.

And a person is only able to buy vegetables worth up to S$50 (HK$279).

FairPrice chief executive Seah Kian Peng went on Facebook to say the chain had ample stocks to meet demand.

angel.kwan@singtaonewscorp.com

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