Call for a lasting work-at-home scheme

Top News | Jane Cheung 5 May 2020

Working from home and flexible working hours should be made new norms in the battle against Covid-19 outbreaks in the future, former health secretary Yeoh Eng-kiong says.

Yeoh cited Singapore, which is studying how to institutionalize special work arrangements and make them permanent in offices.

"It is proven by experience that work arrangements can help maintain physical distancing and block transmission in case of outbreaks," he added.

Yeoh said businesses can look into providing integrated coronavirus-free experiences to business travelers. For example, airlines can offer business class-only flights, in which all passengers are tested before boarding the plane. Upon arrival, all of them will be sent to a hotel for centralized quarantine.

Yeoh said this would guarantee all business travelers are virus-free and allow economic activities to continue to operate.

"Maybe we should also require all hotels to have independent ventilation in the future to improve their level of infection control," he said.

"The battle against Covid-19 will be a long one, but we can achieve a new kind of normalcy for Hong Kong amid efforts to contain and mitigate the virus."

Yeoh, who was secretary for food, health and welfare during the 2003 SARS outbreak, said the Covid-19 epidemic in the mainland has been under control.

"China has the best chance of preventing a resurgence," he said, adding border controls among the mainland, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan are the safest to reopen.

But Yeoh said the administration has to make sure visitors are "pretested" and found negative for the virus before they arrive at the Hong Kong border.

They should also be tested regularly during their stay to ensure they are virus-free.

Yeoh said hand sanitizers should also be a constant anywhere.

"It's like if you go into a restaurant on a cruise, the reception would offer you hand sanitizer," he added.

"In the future, hand sanitizers may have to be used even before meetings or just any kind of gathering."

Yeoh suggested more tests should be done to see if the coronavirus has been eliminated in the community.

"We need more tests to study the prevalence of the infection in Hong Kong and whether people have acquired immunity," Yeoh said.

"If most of us are already immune against the coronavirus, we should focus on border controls.

"For now we need to be flexible and relax restrictions when outbreaks cool down and put them back when there are signs of resurgence."

Yeoh said some medical experts forecast the pandemic would not end until 2024 and many are wishing a vaccine would be available soon.

"I remember people talking about creating a vaccine against HIV/AIDS back in 1985, but 35 years have passed and we're still waiting for it," Yeoh said.

"There's no guarantee on when an effective vaccine [against Covid-19] will come out."

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