Lam snaps back amid pressure from Leung

Money glitz | Maisy Mok 26 May 2021

It was the administration's own call to adjust a mechanism allowing Hongkongers in the mainland to return home without quarantine and not a decision made after outside pressure, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor says.

Lam also stressed that she could not respond to every suggestion from shapers of opinion after frequent criticism on social media lately from former chief executive Leung Chun-ying.

The sharp exchange between the two came after confusion over the Return2HK scheme on Saturday, during which the government made a U-turn on banning those from Guangdong due to a fresh Covid-19 case.

Under the scheme, Hongkongers that applied could be exempted from the 14-day compulsory quarantine requirement when returning from the mainland.

The Centre for Health Protection's Chuang Shuk-kwan had announced on May 22 a halt to Hongkongers in Guangdong from returning through the scheme as the province was classified as a medium-risk area.

Leung then went on Facebook to refer to his confusion at the administration moves.

"The whole province is not able to use the Return2HK scheme because of a case detected in Guangzhou," he said. "This I don't understand There's no hope in reopening borders between Hong Kong and the mainland."

Two hours after Leung's post the administration clarified that only the Liwan district in Guangzhou had been classified as a medium-risk place - not the whole of Guangdong province.

In response to the change, Lam said yesterday that the decision was part of the administration's internal adjustment mechanism.

"It is not due to outside pressure or what someone had said," she declared.

Lam said the problem became apparent on Saturday, admitting that the suspension mechanism was "not very proportionate."

She explained that, initially, if a place is considered medium or high risk in the mainland then the province, city or autonomous region to which it belongs will not be eligible for the Return2HK scheme and cannot be exempted from quarantine.

However, the administration has now adopted the list of risk levels of places in the mainland published by China's National Health Commission. That sets the list of medium or high-risk areas for the scheme.

"I hope that everyone will not ask again," Lam said. "I tried my best to find as much information as possible to explain to everyone."

She also appealed to people not to speculate on who made a mistake as they deal with matters in accordance with the mechanism.

"Many people in Hong Kong will raise their opinions at any time, especially in recent years when many people are called key opinion leaders, KOL," Lam said.

"I will not comment on each of them," Lam said in reference to a Leung suggestion about setting up a culture bureau.

She was also asked about Leung's comment that reopening the border is not an effective way to promote vaccination as many locals do not need to travel between Hong Kong and the mainland.

"The secretary general of the United Nations also emphasized that each country should work hard together [and] make the vaccine available to the whole world as soon as possible," Lam said.

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