23rd Plenary of Hong Kong/Guangdong Co-operation Joint Conference held (with photos/video)

     The Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR), Mr John Lee, and the Governor of Guangdong Province, Mr Wang Weizhong, leading the delegations of the HKSAR and Guangdong Province respectively, co-chaired the 23rd Plenary of the Hong Kong/Guangdong Co-operation Joint Conference yesterday (March 21). Deputy Director of the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office of the State Council, Mr Yang Wanming, and Deputy Director of the Liaison Office of the Central People's Government in the HKSAR, Mr Yin Zhonghua, also attended the meeting as special guests.

     Mr Lee said, "Hong Kong will shoulder greater responsibility and mission in the national development. President Xi Jinping said that the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation has embarked on an irreversible and historic journey, and that we must firmly promote high-quality development while always putting the people first and better co-ordinating development. In the process, Hong Kong should actively dovetail with national strategies and more proactively integrate into the overall development of the country, and in particular, step up our efforts in promoting the development of the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area (GBA)."
     He added that, since the full resumption of normal travel between Hong Kong and the Mainland, both Guangdong and Hong Kong are pressing ahead at full steam to promote a higher level of co-operation between both sides and pursue high-quality development. He led a delegation to visit Guangzhou and Shenzhen at the first instance last month to discuss in great detail the further deepening of Hong Kong's co-operation and exchanges with Guangdong in different areas with Secretary of the CPC Guangdong Provincial Committee, Huang Kunming, and the Governor of Guangdong Province, Wang Weizhong. The HKSAR Government will lead all sectors of the community to actively participate in the development of the GBA, and foster a greater flow of factors of production such as people, goods, information and capital within the GBA, with a view to building the GBA as a first-class bay area for attracting and gathering top international technology talents.

     The governments of Guangdong and Hong Kong have made steady progress in various co-operation areas. The progress made in individual areas and the directions set for future co-operation are outlined below.
Innovation and technology
     Guangdong and Hong Kong have been in close collaboration in the development of innovation and technology (I&T). According to the Global Innovation Index 2022, the Shenzhen-Hong Kong-Guangzhou Science and Technology Cluster has been ranked second in the world for three consecutive years. Looking ahead, both sides will actively develop the Shenzhen-Hong Kong Technology and Innovation Co-operation Zone, which will provide important support to promote I&T development in the GBA and the country. Meanwhile, promoting high-quality economic development and accelerating the development of digital economy and smart city are some of the important measures taken by the HKSAR Government to contribute to the national policy of "Digital China".

     To take I&T development in Guangdong and Hong Kong to new heights, the two sides signed two agreements after the meeting, including the renewal of the "Co-operation Agreement on Technology and Innovation Exchange between Guangdong and Hong Kong" to further deepen technology and innovation exchanges and co-operation between the two places, as well as to promote the development of an international I&T centre in the GBA. The two sides have also entered into the "Co-operation Agreement between Guangdong and the HKSAR on Co-developing a Smart City Cluster" with a view to stepping up mutual exchanges, expediting the development of digital economy and smart city, and jointly promoting the development of a Guangdong-Hong Kong smart city cluster.
Financial Services
     There has been close financial co-operation between Guangdong and Hong Kong all along. Leveraging the unique advantages of Hong Kong's financial system under "One Country, Two Systems" and our country's support to the financial liberalisation and innovation of the GBA, the HKSAR Government will join hands with Guangdong Provincial Government to contribute to the high-quality development of the GBA as well as the deepening of the reform of the country's financial markets.

     The governments of both sides will jointly implement the "Opinion on Providing Financial Support for the Comprehensive Deepening Reform and Opening Up of the Qianhai Shenzhen-Hong Kong Modern Service Industry Co-operation Zone" and promote mutual access between the financial markets of the two places, including striving for the establishment of insurance after-sales service centres by the Hong Kong insurance industry in Nansha and Qianhai in the near future, so as to provide GBA residents who are holders of Hong Kong policies with comprehensive support. The HKSAR Government also supports Mainland companies to make use of Hong Kong's platform as an international financial centre and professional services for financing, particularly green and sustainable financing, so as to channel international capital to support the green transformation of our country's economy.

     To promote deepened financial co-operation between both places, the Financial Services and the Treasury Bureau of the HKSAR Government and the Guangdong Financial Supervisory Authority signed the "Agreement on Enhancing Hong Kong-Guangdong Financial Co-operation" after the meeting.
Northern Metropolis Development
     As a new engine driving the future development of Hong Kong, the Northern Metropolis serves as an important base for promoting I&T and the diversified development of industries. It also creates strong impetus for the growth of Hong Kong, facilitates high-quality economic co-operation between Hong Kong and the GBA, and provides more quality living space for the general public. Under the Guangdong-Hong Kong and Hong Kong-Shenzhen co-operation mechanisms, the Task Force for Collaboration on the Northern Metropolis Development Strategy has been set up to strengthen liaison and co-ordination between Hong Kong and the Mainland on matters related to the Northern Metropolis. The first meeting of the Task Force was held in late February this year in Shenzhen. Both sides exchanged views on the progress in planning and implementing the Northern Metropolis, the development plans in Shenzhen relevant to the Northern Metropolis, and related areas including cross-boundary transport, planning of control points, development of Qianhai, construction works at the Lok Ma Chau Loop, etc. Both sides agreed to continue strengthening co-operation, making full use of the synergy between the Northern Metropolis and the GBA cities in areas such as industry development, land use and ecological conservation, and the opportunities arising therefrom.

Commerce and Investment Promotion
     All along, Guangdong Province has been the most preferred investment destination of Hong Kong businesses and a valuable trading partner for Hong Kong. The HKSAR Government is grateful for the many liberalisation measures that have been launched continually by various cities of Guangdong Province for the benefits of Hong Kong businesses and professionals, and will continue to strive for the implementation of more liberalisation measures in the GBA and even the whole of the Mainland, thereby further advancing the liberalisation of trade between Guangdong and Hong Kong, as well as facilitating trading and investment.

     On supporting Hong Kong enterprises to tap into the Mainland market, the Hong Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC) has established the "HKTDC GBA Centre" in Shenzhen and "GoGBA Business Support Centres" in various Mainland cities of the GBA to assist Hong Kong enterprises in taking the GBA as an entry point to develop the domestic sales market. The network of "GoGBA Business Support Centres" will be expanded gradually to cover all nine Mainland cities of the GBA. The HKTDC will also organise the flagship events "SmartHK" in Guangzhou and "Chic HK" in Shenzhen during the "Guangdong-Hong Kong Co-operation Week" in May this year to promote Hong Kong's services and products.

     InvestHK will continue to work closely with cities in Guangdong Province and organise various promotion activities, to appeal to more enterprises in Guangdong Province to make investments in Hong Kong or leverage Hong Kong's unique business environment as a "going-out" platform to expand overseas.
Cross-boundary Transport and Logistics
     The "Outline Development Plan for the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area" puts emphasis on expediting infrastructural connectivity, raising the standards of passenger and cargo transport services. To this end, the Heung Yuen Wai Boundary Control Point, connecting to Liantang Port of the Mainland, has been fully commissioned since February 6 this year. As regards the "Quota-free Scheme for Hong Kong Private Cars Travelling to Guangdong via the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge (HZMB)" (the Scheme), the HKSAR Government expressed its heartfelt gratitude to the Central Government and the Guangdong Provincial Government for their continuous strong support. The governments of Guangdong and HKSAR are working closely and strive to announce the arrangements within this month for implementation of the Scheme within this year. The Scheme will lead to considerable enhancement in both the utilisation of the HZMB and the inter-connectivity within the GBA.

     The Airport Authority Hong Kong signed a co-operation agreement with the Dongguan Municipal Government last month on co-operation over "sea-air intermodal cargo transshipment". Under the new "sea-air intermodal cargo transshipment" arrangement, export cargo can go through one-stop security screening and cargo clearance in the Mainland, and then be transported to the Hong Kong International Airport by sea for direct transshipment to overseas destinations, further enhancing the international competitiveness of the manufacturing industry as well as the import and export trade of the GBA. The relevant pilot scheme was launched in end-2021 and has been operating smoothly, and the scale of "sea-air intermodal cargo transshipment" will gradually increase.
     To enhance the talents exchange and co-operation, the HKSAR Government launched a series of more proactive measures in attracting talents late last year. The HKSAR Government will continue to optimise and enhance Hong Kong's role as the gateway for talents from both the GBA and the overseas, and explore the strengthening of co-operation with the Guangdong Provincial Government in multiple aspects, with a view to expediting the establishment of the GBA talent hub and promoting high quality development in the region and the whole nation.

     In order to further enhance the co-operation between Guangdong and Hong Kong on labour inspection and law enforcement, the Labour and Welfare Bureau of the HKSAR Government and the Human Resources and Social Security Department of Guangdong Province signed the "Guangdong/Hong Kong Exchange and Training Co-operation Agreement on Labour Inspection and Law Enforcement" after the meeting .
     The HKSAR Government is reviewing with the Hospital Authority (HA) and the University of Hong Kong-Shenzhen Hospital the follow-up arrangements for the Special Support Scheme for HA Chronic Disease Patients Living in the Guangdong Province, with a view to exploring and planning a suitable model more effectively to take care of the medical needs of the Hong Kong residents living in the Mainland cities of the GBA. In addition, in 2023/2024, two hospitals under the HA will adopt the International Hospital Quality Accreditation Standards (2021 Version) published by the Shenzhen Hospital Accreditation Research Center, in order to ensure that the management and service standards of the hospitals are in line with international standards whilst supporting the national hospital accreditation standards to go international.

     Besides, as a facilitation measure for Hong Kong residents working and living in the GBA to seek healthcare services, the Central Government announced the "Work Plan for Regulatory Innovation and Development of Pharmaceutical and Medical Device in the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area" in November 2020. It allows designated healthcare institutions operating in the GBA to use eligible Hong Kong drugs and medical devices, subject to the approval of Guangdong Province. The HKSAR Government will maintain close liaison with the relevant Mainland authorities, so as to expand the coverage of the arrangements to meet the needs of more patients in the Mainland. In order to continue strengthening co-operation on various aspects of drugs and medical devices, the governments of Guangdong and Hong Kong signed the "Memorandum of Understanding on Drugs and Medical Devices Monitoring and Co-operation in the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area" after the meeting, with a view to enhancing exchanges and co-operation on the regulation of drugs and medical devices in the GBA.
     On higher education, the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (Guangzhou), which officially opened in September last year, is the first higher education collaboration initiative between the Mainland and Hong Kong with establishment approval from the Ministry of Education (MoE) since the promulgation of the Outline Development Plan for the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area. MoE has also approved the establishment of the City University of Hong Kong (Dongguan), and the first construction phase of its campus is expected to complete in mid-2023. At the same time, the GBA campus development projects of the Hong Kong Metropolitan University, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University and The University of Hong Kong are also at different stages of implementation. The establishment of campuses of these Hong Kong higher education institutions in the GBA will facilitate the establishment of a talent hub, strengthen higher education collaboration between Guangdong and Hong Kong, and nurture talents for the development of the country and the GBA.

     On vocational and professional education and training (VPET), the HKSAR Government will continue to explore pursuing mutual recognition of sub-degree and specialist qualifications of Guangdong and Hong Kong, and continue to support the Vocational Training Council (VTC) to strengthen its co-operation with the Shenzhen Polytechnic. The first Mainland office of the VTC in Shenzhen will open this month to continue to foster the collaboration between the VTC and VPET organisations in the Mainland in areas including launching more joint programmes and offering additional workplace training and internship opportunities.

     In addition, Guangdong and Hong Kong will jointly arrange the participation of Hong Kong teachers and students in Mainland exchange programmes and study tours, in order to deepen their understanding of the country's development, enhance their sense of national identity, as well as encourage schools of the two places to conduct co-operation and exchanges at a more diversified, broader and higher level. The HKSAR Government has liaised with the Department of Education of Guangdong Province to resume the "Hong Kong Teachers' Exchange Activities to the Mainland", while the Mainland study tours for the subject of Citizenship and Social Development will kick-start in April this year, with an estimated number of around 50 000 students visiting various cities in Guangdong Province this school year.
     The HKSAR Government attaches great importance to the collaboration between Hong Kong and Mainland cities of the GBA in respect of arts, culture and creative industries. In the Budget this year, funding has been allocated to support Hong Kong arts groups to further enhance cultural exchanges in the GBA, and for hosting the GBA Culture and Arts Festival in 2024, with a view to jointly pursuing the inheritance and development of the fine traditions of Chinese culture.

     To promote Hong Kong's pop culture to go beyond Hong Kong, the HKSAR Government will support the co-production of television variety programmes by local television stations and their counterparts in the Mainland (including Guangdong Province) / Asia, and will also encourage related creative industries in Guangdong to participate in exhibitions and exchange activities held in Hong Kong, such as the Hong Kong International Film and TV Market.
Youth Development
     To promote mutual development of young people in Guangdong and Hong Kong, and encourage Hong Kong young people to seize the opportunities brought about by the development of the GBA, the HKSAR Government has resumed programmes such as the Funding Scheme for Youth Internship in the Mainland and the Funding Scheme for Youth Exchange in the Mainland in a gradual and orderly manner, with a view to raising Hong Kong young people's awareness and understanding of their home country and fostering their exchanges with Mainland young people. These programmes will also enhance the sense of national identity of Hong Kong youths and strengthen Mainland people's understanding of Hong Kong young people. In addition, the HKSAR Government will continue to support potential Hong Kong young entrepreneurs through the Funding Scheme for Youth Entrepreneurship in the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area and the Funding Scheme for Experiential Programmes at Innovation and Entrepreneurial Bases in the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area; and kick-start the preparatory work for the establishment of the Alliance of Hong Kong Youth Innovative and Entrepreneurial Bases in the GBA to support Hong Kong young people starting their businesses in the GBA.

     The HKSAR Government has also regularised the Greater Bay Area Youth Employment Scheme, to encourage enterprises with businesses in both Hong Kong and Mainland cities in the GBA to recruit university graduates from Hong Kong, and station them in the GBA Mainland cities to work, thereby promoting exchanges of talents, as well as creating favourable conditions for Hong Kong young people to explore career development opportunities in the GBA. The latest round of the scheme is open for application from employers starting early this month. The HKSAR Government expresses its heartfelt gratitude for the immense support from the governments of Guangdong Province and the various cities in the GBA in implementing the scheme, including providing additional allowance, preferential treatments and all-round support to young people working there.
Civil Service Exchange
     The HKSAR Government will continue to promote and deepen exchanges between civil servants of both Hong Kong and the Mainland, and is pursuing discussion with the Mainland authorities on jointly organising the Civil Service Staff Exchange Programme with the Mainland cities of the GBA within this year.
The 23rd Plenary
     The 23rd Plenary held yesterday was co-chaired by the Chief Executive of the HKSAR, Mr John Lee, and the Governor of Guangdong Province, Mr Wang Weizhong. Members of the HKSAR delegation included the Chief Secretary for Administration, Mr Chan Kwok-ki; the Deputy Chief Secretary for Administration, Mr Cheuk Wing-hing; the Deputy Financial Secretary, Mr Michael Wong; the Deputy Secretary for Justice, Mr Cheung Kwok-kwan; the Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs, Mr Erick Tsang Kwok-wai; the Secretary for Financial Services and the Treasury, Mr Christopher Hui; the Secretary for Environment and Ecology, Mr Tse Chin-wan; the Secretary for Health, Professor Lo Chung-mau; the Secretary for Transport and Logistics, Mr Lam Sai-hung; the Secretary for Development, Ms Bernadette Linn; the Secretary for Education, Dr Choi Yuk-lin; the Secretary for Home and Youth Affairs, Miss Alice Mak; the Secretary for Labour and Welfare, Mr Chris Sun; and the Acting Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development, Dr Bernard Chan. 

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HKSAR Government strongly disapproves and firmly opposes United States report on human rights

     The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) Government today (March 21) strongly disapproved of and firmly rejected the unfounded remarks and smears contained in the United States (US) Department of State's so-called 2022 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices in respect of the Hong Kong National Security Law (NSL), Hong Kong's improved electoral system, situation of human rights and rule of law etc.

     A HKSAR Government spokesperson said, "The HKSAR is an inalienable part of the People's Republic of China (PRC). We are a local administrative region that enjoys a high degree of autonomy under 'one country, two systems' and comes directly under the Central People's Government. The legal basis for implementing 'one country, two systems' is the Constitution and the Basic Law which provide constitutional guarantee for fundamental rights and freedoms, including the right to equality before the law, and is buttressed by the rule of law and independent judicial power."

     The spokesperson stressed, "The HKSAR Government steadfastly safeguards national sovereignty, security and development interests, and upholds the authority of the NSL. It resolutely carries out its duties and obligations to safeguard national security in accordance with the law, and upholds the rights and freedoms enjoyed by Hong Kong people as protected under the law, so as to ensure the steadfast and successful implementation of 'one country, two systems'. By issuing the so-called annual report, the US again made despicable tricks, which override law by politics, with an attempt to undermine the prosperity and stability of Hong Kong by politicising human rights issues and slandering the human rights situation and rule of law in the city. It will only expose its own weakness and faulty arguments and be doomed to fail. The HKSAR Government again strongly urges the US to immediately stop using human rights as an excuse to interfere into the internal affairs of the HKSAR of the PRC."

     Hong Kong's Improved Electoral System

     The HKSAR Government spokesperson said, "The HKSAR Government deplores the erroneous statement in the so-called report on Hong Kong's improved electoral system and the 2022 Chief Executive Election. The improved electoral system of the HKSAR puts in place legal safeguards to ensure full implementation of 'patriots administering Hong Kong'. Loyalty to one's country is a politician's most basic political ethics, and a universally applicable and steadfastly upheld principle and standard. As such, 'patriots administering Hong Kong' is an unalterable principle. Regardless of one's background, whoever meets the requirements and criteria of patriots, can participate in elections in accordance with the law and serve the Hong Kong public by entering into the governance structure of the HKSAR after getting successfully elected. 

     "The Election Committee comprises 1 500 members from different sectors and classes of Hong Kong community. It goes beyond the vested interests of specific sectors, specific district and specific groups. The improved electoral system is to enhance the balanced and orderly political participation by the community and ensure broader representation in the political structure of Hong Kong. The reconstituted Election Committee is broadly representative, and its composition best demonstrates the balanced and orderly political participation. Coupled with the creation of a Candidate Eligibility Review Committee to ensure that candidates comply with the 'patriot' requirement, a new democratic electoral system according to the actual situation of Hong Kong and with Hong Kong characteristics is established.

     "Hong Kong residents' rights to vote and to stand for election are well enshrined in the Basic Law. The Decision of the National People's Congress of the PRC in March 2021 did not revise the ultimate aim of attaining universal suffrage provided for in Articles 45 and 68 of the Basic Law. The improved electoral system, by ensuring 'patriots administering Hong Kong' and safeguarding the overall interests of society, is conducive to the stable development of Hong Kong's democracy."

     Hong Kong National Security Law

     "The HKSAR Government rebuked that the remarks on the NSL in the so-called report amount to fact twisting and political smearing, which are totally groundless and cannot be further from the truth," the HKSAR Government spokesperson said.

     "Article 4 of the NSL has clearly stipulated that human rights shall be respected and protected in safeguarding national security in the HKSAR; the rights and freedoms which the residents of Hong Kong enjoy under the Basic Law and the provisions of the international covenants as applied to Hong Kong shall be protected in accordance with the law. Any measures or enforcement actions taken under the NSL must observe the above principle, and Hong Kong residents continue to enjoy various rights and freedoms, including the freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, freedom of association, freedom of movement, academic freedom, and enjoyment of cultural rights, etc., after the implementation of the NSL.

     "The Standing Committee of the National People's Congress' interpretation on the NSL did not confer additional power on the Chief Executive, and only clarified that Article 47 of the NSL is applicable in handling the controversy concerning overseas lawyers. The certification system is fair and reasonable, with a solid legal basis.

     "In addition, the HKSAR Government also strongly objected to the unfounded and false remarks in the so-called report on the law enforcement actions taken by the HKSAR Government. All law enforcement actions taken by Hong Kong law enforcement agencies are based on evidence and strictly in accordance with the law in respect of the acts of the persons or entities concerned, and have nothing to do with their political stance, background or occupation.

     "Regarding the bail arrangement, the cardinal importance of safeguarding national security and preventing and suppressing acts endangering national security explains why the NSL introduces more stringent conditions to the grant of bail in relation to offences endangering national security.

     "Apart from providing that the principle of the rule of law shall be adhered to, Article 5 of the NSL also provides for the presumption of innocence, the prohibition of double jeopardy, and the right to defend oneself and other rights in judicial proceedings that a criminal suspect, defendant and other parties in judicial proceedings are entitled to under the law. Moreover, trial by a panel of three judges instead of by a jury under specified circumstances seeks to safeguard rather than undermine the defendants' right to a fair trial, and judges will deliver the reasons for the verdicts to ensure open justice."

     Due Administration of Justice and the Rule of Law

     In response to the so-called report's smearing on independent judicial power in Hong Kong, the HKSAR spokesperson stressed, "Hong Kong is a society underpinned by the rule of law and has always adhered to the principle that laws must be obeyed and lawbreakers held accountable. Hong Kong's judicial system has always been highly regarded by international communities. The Judiciary exercises judicial power independently in accordance with the law, free from any interference. Everyone charged with a criminal offence has the right to a fair hearing.

     "As guaranteed by the Basic Law and the Hong Kong Bill of Rights, all defendants charged with a criminal offence have the right to and will undergo a fair hearing by the Judiciary. The courts decide cases strictly in accordance with the evidence and all applicable laws. Cases will never be handled any differently owing to the profession, political beliefs or background of the persons involved."

     Conditions of Prisons and Detention Centres
     In response to the false information in the so-called report by the US on the conditions of prison and detention centres, the HKSAR Government spokesperson said, "The Correctional Services Department (CSD) is committed to providing a secure, safe, humane, decent and healthy custodial environment for persons in custody (PICs). The rights of PICs are safeguarded through a system of regular visits by independent visitors, namely Justices of the Peace (JPs), who are vested with the statutory duties to inspect the prisons once or twice every month. PICs may approach visiting JPs or lodge complaints through other channels including the CSD's Complaints Investigation Unit and the Ombudsman. All complaints by PICs will be handled in an open, fair and just manner."
     Freedom of Assembly
     In response to the presumptuous claims in the so-called report by the US, alleging the HKSAR Government banned public assembly based on public health concerns, the HKSAR Government spokesperson pointed out, "The freedom of assembly and freedom of procession in Hong Kong are fully protected by the Basic Law and the Hong Kong Bill of Rights Ordinance. However, such freedoms are not absolute or unrestricted. In response to COVID-19, similar to the measures adopted by many overseas jurisdictions, the HKSAR Government had put in place restrictions on group gatherings in public places so as to reduce the risks of spreading in the community, which poses serious threat to lives and health of the public. No political considerations had ever come into play. In light of the epidemic development, the relevant restriction had already been withdrawn by the end of 2022."
     Rights to Form and Join Trade Unions
     Regarding the unfounded statement in the so-called report by the US on freedom of association in Hong Kong, the HKSAR Government spokesman pointed out, "Hong Kong residents enjoy the right and freedom to form and join trade unions. Such right and freedom is clearly protected by Article 27 of the Basic Law and under local legislation, including the Trade Unions Ordinance. Trade union rights in Hong Kong are strong and intact as ever, which is evidenced by the marked increase in the number of registered trade unions from 2019 to 2022. It is crystal clear that the free exercise of the right and freedom of association in the Hong Kong has not been jeopardised in any way.
     "The HKSAR Government is dedicated to defending and protecting the right and freedom of association in Hong Kong. One must draw a clear difference between legitimate trade union activities protected under our law and unlawful acts that have nothing to do with the exercise of trade union rights. It is the duty of Hong Kong law enforcement authorities to take legitimate actions against unlawful behaviours, which should not be wrongfully alleged as an affront to trade union rights."
     Handling of Non-refoulement Claims
     The HKSAR Government spokesman said, "The HKSAR Government maintains a firm policy of not granting asylum and not determining or recognising refugee status of any person. A Unified Screening Mechanism (USM) has been put in place to screen non-refoulement claims on all applicable grounds in one go. The procedures of the USM meet the high standards of fairness as required by law and compare most favourably with those adopted in other common law jurisdictions. Each non-refoulement claimant is also provided with publicly-funded legal assistance.
     "The Immigration (Amendment) Ordinance 2021, which took effect from August 1, 2021, has further improved the handling of non-refoulement claims including enhancing efficiency in screening by the Immigration Department and preventing delaying tactics.
     "Non-refoulement claimants have no lawful status to stay in Hong Kong. Regardless of the outcome of their non-refoulement claims, claimants are not permitted to remain legally in Hong Kong and they have no right to work in Hong Kong. In those circumstances where it is necessary to detain non-refoulement claimants in accordance with the relevant statutory provisions, legal principles established by the Court and the prevailing detention policy, they are provided with adequate facilities and reasonable arrangements for their comfort are also made. The HKSAR Government also provides humanitarian assistance to them for sustaining their livelihood in Hong Kong."

Labour Department highly concerned about fatal work accident that happened today

     The Labour Department (LD) is highly concerned about a fatal work accident that happened at a construction site in Sau Mau Ping (Construction of Public Housing Development at Anderson Road Quarry Site RS-1) this morning (March 21), in which a male worker, while conducting debris clearance work on 15/F of a building under construction, fell onto 1/F. He was certified dead later in the hospital. The LD is saddened by the death of the worker and expresses its deepest sympathy to his family.
     The LD's spokesman said, "We commenced an immediate on-site investigation as soon as we were notified of the accident and issued a suspension notice to the contractor concerned, suspending any work near the buildings' edges on the site that may expose workers to risks of falling from height. The contractor cannot resume the work process until the LD is satisfied that measures to abate the relevant risks have been taken."
     The spokesman added, "We will complete the investigation as soon as possible to identify the cause of the accident, ascertain the liability of the duty holders and recommend improvement measures. We will take actions pursuant to the law if there is any violation of the work safety legislation."
     The general duty provisions of the Factories and Industrial Undertakings Ordinance require employers to provide safe working environments, plant and systems of work for their employees. Those who contravene the above provisions are liable to a maximum fine of $500,000 and imprisonment for six months.
     In regard to today's accident, the LD will issue a Work Safety Alert through its website and by email, giving a brief account of the accident concerned to duty holders, workers' unions, professional bodies of safety practitioners and others, and reminding the industry of the importance of following safety precautionary measures to prevent a recurrence of similar accidents.
     The LD will also remind the employer concerned of the liability for employees' compensation under the Employees' Compensation Ordinance, assist family members of the deceased to claim employees' compensation and closely follow up on the case. For those with financial difficulties, the LD will assist them to apply for appropriate emergency funds. Subject to the needs and wishes of family members of the deceased, the LD will also liaise with the Social Welfare Department for financial or other assistance.
     For the sake of securing the safety and health of employees at work, the LD appeals to employers to provide plant and systems of work that are safe and without risks to health. Employees should co-operate with their employers, adopt all safety measures and use personal protective equipment provided properly to avoid endangering their own work safety and that of other workers.

CHP investigates outbreak of acute gastroenteritis at primary school in Tuen Mun

     The Centre for Health Protection (CHP) of the Department of Health (DH) is today (March 21) investigating an outbreak of acute gastroenteritis (AGE) at a primary school in Tuen Mun, and hence reminded the public and management of institutions to maintain personal and environmental hygiene against AGE.

     The outbreak involves 41 students, comprising 26 males and 15 females aged 6 to 9. Twenty-seven of them sought medical attention, one of whom required hospitalisation, and has been discharged after management. The stool specimen of the hospitalised student tested positive for norovirus. 

     According to the CHP's epidemiological investigation, one of the students in the outbreak had vomited in the school playground earliest on March 15 and another student vomited on one of the floors on March 17. Other students developed vomiting and diarrhoea from March 18 to 19. The CHP also confirmed that the affected students did not consume common food or meal boxes, and the investigation results revealed that there was an outbreak of AGE caused by norovirus in the affected school, with a higher chance of person-to-person transmission or environmental contamination. The chance of involving food poisoning is relatively low.

     Officers of the CHP have conducted a site visit and provided health advice to the staff of the school concerning proper and thorough disinfection, proper disposal of vomitus, and personal and environmental hygiene. The school has been put under medical surveillance.

     Investigations are ongoing.

     A spokesman for the CHP advised members of the public to take heed of the following preventive measures against gastroenteritis:
     • Ensure proper personal hygiene;
     • Wash hands thoroughly before handling food and eating, after using the toilet or after changing diapers;
     • Wear gloves when disposing of vomitus or faecal matter, and wash hands afterwards;
     • Clean and disinfect contaminated areas or items promptly and thoroughly with diluted household bleach (by adding one part of bleach containing 5.25 per cent sodium hypochlorite to 49 parts of water). Wash hands thoroughly afterwards;
     • Maintain good indoor ventilation;
     • Pay attention to food hygiene;
     • Use separate utensils to handle raw and cooked food;
     • Avoid food that is not thoroughly cooked;
     • Drink boiled water; and
     • Do not patronise unlicensed food premises or food stalls.
     The public may visit the CHP's website (www.chp.gov.hk) or call the DH's Health Education Infoline (2833 0111) for more information.

Outcome of 2023 review of MTR Fare Adjustment Mechanism

     The Government and the MTR Corporation Limited (MTRCL) have completed the review of the MTR Fare Adjustment Mechanism (FAM). The Executive Council approved the outcome of the review today (March 21). The enhanced FAM will take effect starting from June this year.

     Speaking at the press conference today, the Secretary for Transport and Logistics, Mr Lam Sai-hung, said that the Government is clear in its review objectives to strike a balance between different considerations and needs, with a view to enhancing the FAM to bring about fare moderation for the public and strengthen the linkage between MTR fares and the Corporation's profit and service performance, as well as taking into account the long-term financial sustainability of the MTRCL, in order for it to reserve adequate resources to cope with the increasing expenses on railway maintenance and asset renewal, and co-operate with the Government in taking forward new railway projects that are beneficial to the society. The enhanced FAM and its related arrangements have the following key features:

(1) to link MTR fares directly with its Hong Kong property development (HKPD) profits through revising the calculation method of the Productivity Factor (PF) in the FAM formula (Note), in order to respond to the ongoing demands from the public and lower the fare base of the MTRCL in the long run to benefit all passengers.

     Revised arrangement for PF:

HKPD Profit in the Previous Year Productivity Factor
<$5 billion 0.6%
≥$5 billion to <$10 billion 0.7%
≥$10 billion 0.8%

Note: Overall fare adjustment rate = (0.5 × year-on-year change in Composite Consumer Price Index) + (0.5 × year-on-year change in Nominal Wage Index (Transportation Section) (Wage Index)) – PF

     Based on the HKPD profit of the MTRCL in 2022, the fare adjustment rate this year would be lowered by 0.8 percentage point accordingly;

(2) the MTRCL to offer a 1.2 per cent special fare reduction for the fare adjustment this year, in order to offset over 40 per cent of the 2.85 per cent unrecouped fare adjustment rate due to the "Affordability Cap" arrangement. The remaining 1.65 per cent recoupment will continue to be deferred. Further, the MTRCL will defer implementing another 0.2 per cent of the fare increase rate this year. In other words, a total of 1.85 per cent fare increase rate would be deferred, so as to further reduce the fare burden of passengers as the economy gradually recovers;

(3) to increase the amount to be set aside for incidents that cause disruptions of more than three hours and the maximum amount to be set aside per incident under the Service Performance Rebate (SPR), as well as introduce a peak hour multiplier to more duly reflect the impact of train service disruptions on passengers. Details are set out in the Annex. 

     Once the amount set aside under SPR reaches $25 million, the MTRCL will arrange a Special Fare Day to take place on a specific Saturday or Sunday when passengers can pay half price for taking the MTR.

     Under the new arrangement, the MTRCL shall set aside $103 million for incidents that took place in 2022 to provide four Special Fare Days;

(4) to enhance and extend various fare concessions, including raising the MTR-Green Minibuses interchange discount from $0.3 per trip to $0.5 per trip, and extending the MTR City Saver and Monthly Pass-related concessions, in order to continue to benefit different passenger groups; and

(5) to retain the existing "Affordability Cap" arrangement under the FAM to keep fare adjustments in check.

     Mr Lam emphasised that the Government has achieved a breakthrough in the current review to link MTR fares directly to its property development profit, thereby responding to the perennial calls from the community. Adopting a result-oriented approach, the fare adjustment rate this year will be lowered by 3.85 percentage point, including the reduction of 0.8 per cent under the revised PF, 1.2 per cent special fare reduction and the total of 1.85 per cent deferral of fare adjustment, thus significantly reducing the fare burden on passengers.

     The actual fare adjustment rate this year will be finalised when the Census and Statistics Department announces the Wage Index at the end of this month.