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Government announces latest disease prevention measures

     The Government today (June 2) announced the latest disease prevention measures and arrangements under the Prevention and Control of Disease Ordinance (Cap. 599).

     The situation of COVID-19 outbreak in Hong Kong and the number of confirmed cases have slightly stabilised in the past month or so, but remain very volatile, with local cluster cases reported again recently. At the same time, the global situation remains severe. As at June 1, 2020, 218 countries/territories/areas reported a total of around 5.98 million COVID-19 cases.  Since late March, about 70 000 to 110 000 new cases have been reported daily around the world. On the other hand, despite significant improvement in the situation in the Mainland, individual provinces/regions continue to report some imported and local cases in the past few weeks.

     The above situation reflects the fact that the pandemic is yet to be over whether in Hong Kong or places outside Hong Kong. Indeed, the World Health Organization and health experts advised that COVID-19 would not be eradicated without effective treatment and vaccination. Individual countries and regions need to keep adjusting the intensity of their infection control measures in light of the circumstances, taking into account their respective economic and social needs. The Government’s priority at the moment is not to completely eliminate the virus or to achieve sustained zero infection level, but to incorporate disease prevention and control, as well as infection management, into the new normal of the daily operation of the society.

     Specifically, the Government will continue to adopt the “suppress and lift” strategy, and maintain the relevant disease prevention measures when the epidemic continues, including immigration control and social distancing measures. When drawing up the relevant measures, the Government has all along endeavoured to strike a balance among the factors of public health protection, economic impact and social acceptance, in order to maintain the aforementioned disease prevention measures while allowing room for gradual resumption of normal operation and activities of the society when situation permits. In parallel, to achieve the goals of early identification, early isolation and early treatment, the Government will enhance virus surveillance in the community in order to identify asymptomatic infected persons as soon as possible to break the invisible transmission chain at an early stage.

Social distancing measures
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     In view of the above development of the epidemic and the strategy in combatting the disease, there is a need to continue to maintain the relevant legal framework in the upcoming period to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the community through various social distancing measures. For this purpose, the Government has gazetted today the amendments and directions under the Prevention and Control of Disease (Requirements and Directions) (Business and Premises) Regulation (Cap. 599F) and the Prevention and Control of Disease (Prohibition on Group Gathering) Regulation (Cap. 599G) as follows:

(1) The expiry dates of Cap. 599F and Cap. 599G will be extended by around two months to August 31, 2020.

Catering premises and scheduled premises

(2) The existing regulations and restrictions on catering premises and scheduled premises will be maintained, with refinements made having regard to circumstances on the ground (see Annex). Amongst others, activities and facilities involving higher health risks such as live performance, dancing activities, steam and sauna facilities, etc. will continue to be suspended or prohibited.

Group Gatherings

(3) Unless exempted, group gatherings at public places will continue to be prohibited.

     The latest directions under Cap. 599F and Cap. 599G will be effective from 0.00am on June 5, 2020 for a period of 14 days till June 18, 2020.

     A spokesperson said, “The Government will review the various measures in place from time to time in accordance with the development of the epidemic situation, and will make suitable adjustments taking into account all relevant factors.”

Immigration control measures
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     In addition to social distancing measures in the community, there is a need to continue restrictions of movement of people between Hong Kong and other places and implement compulsory quarantine measures to prevent imported cases. In the meantime, the Government holds the view that there is a need to introduce a mechanism to allow consideration of gradual relaxation of compulsory quarantine requirements for persons arriving from specific countries and places after assessing the relevant public health risks.

     To this end, the Government has gazetted amendments to the Compulsory Quarantine of Certain Persons Arriving at Hong Kong Regulation (Cap. 599C) and the Compulsory Quarantine of Persons Arriving at Hong Kong from Foreign Places Regulation (Cap. 599E) today. The amendments will be effective from 0.00am on June 5, 2020 with details as follows:

(1) A mechanism will be introduced to empower the Secretary for Food and Health (SFH) to specify two categories of places.  For persons arriving from these categories of places:

(a) For Category 1 specified places, those persons will be subject to compulsory quarantine arrangements; or
(b) For Category 2 specified places, those persons will be excluded from the requirements in respect of the compulsory quarantine arrangements subject to meeting certain conditions (such as obtaining a negative COVID-19 test result).

     The above arrangements pertaining to Category 1 and 2 places are applicable to both places within and outside China. At this stage, SFH has, in accordance with Cap. 599C and Cap. 599E, published a notice in the gazette today to specify all places in China outside Hong Kong and all places outside China as Category 1 specified places with effect from 0.00am on June 5, 2020. That is, unless exempted pursuant to the regulations, arrivals from these places will be subject to the compulsory quarantine arrangements.

(2) The criteria for the Chief Secretary for Administration to exempt travellers from the compulsory quarantine arrangements under Cap. 599E will be expanded to cover persons whose travelling is necessary for purposes relating to manufacturing operations, business activities or the provision of professional services in the interest of Hong Kong’s economic development, and thus be aligned with relevant provisions under Cap. 599C.
      
(3) Taking into account the need to continue to restrict movement of people between Hong Kong and other places and implement compulsory quarantine measures in the upcoming period, as well as development of the epidemic situation in places within and outside China, the Government will extend the expiry date of Cap. 599C by a month to July 7, 2020 and that of Cap. 599E by three months to September 18, 2020.

     The spokesperson said, “The current amendments mainly serve to provide a statutory basis on which the Government may make, based on latest developments, assessment on the latest public health risks of relevant countries and regions, and in turn determine their category of specified places as the epidemic situation changes locally and overseas. The relevant mechanism provides us the flexibility to discuss immigration control measures other than compulsory quarantine with relevant regions subject to their public health risks, thus encouraging gradual resumption of movement of people and thereby spurring related economic activities. We have all along maintained close communication with relevant Mainland and Macao authorities on this front under the framework of joint prevention and control. We will announce the relevant details as soon as possible should there be new arrangements.”

     The above amendments to the four regulations are made in accordance with the Prevention and Control of Disease Ordinance (Cap. 599). Section 8 of Cap. 599 empowers the Chief Executive in Council to make public health emergency regulations for the purposes of preventing, combating or alleviating the effects of a public health emergency and protecting public health.

     Persons responsible for carrying on catering businesses and the managers of scheduled premises that contravene the statutory requirements under Cap. 599F would have committed a criminal offence. Offenders are subject to a maximum fine of $50,000 and imprisonment for six months.

     Separately, any person who participates in a prohibited group gathering; organises a prohibited group gathering; owns, controls or operates the place of such gathering; and knowingly allows the taking place of such gathering, commits an offence under Cap. 599G.  Offenders are liable to a maximum fine of $25,000 and imprisonment for six months. Persons who participate in a prohibited group gathering may discharge liability for the offence by paying a fixed penalty of $2,000.  read more

CHP investigates six additional confirmed cases of COVID-19

     The Centre for Health Protection (CHP) of the Department of Health has announced that as of 4pm today (June 2), the CHP was investigating six additional confirmed cases of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), taking the number of cases to 1 094 in Hong Kong so far (comprising 1 093 confirmed cases and one probable case).
 
     The newly reported cases announced today involve five females and one male aged between 15 and 78. Among them, four reside in Luk Chuen House, Lek Yuen Estate, Sha Tin, and one had a travel history during the incubation period. The CHP’s epidemiological investigations and relevant contact tracing on the confirmed cases are ongoing. For case details and contact tracing information, please see the Annex.
 
     Given the emergence of confirmed cases residing in Luk Chuen House in the past few days, the Government expert group inspected the building last night to follow up on the matter.
 
     According to the initial inspection findings by members of the Government expert group, including members from the CHP; Under Secretary for the Environment, Mr Tse Chin-wan; and Chair of Infectious Diseases, Department of Microbiology, Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine of the University of Hong Kong, Professor Yuen Kwok-yung, the emergence of the cases were not due to pipe issues of the units concerned. Hence, no evacuation of the residents of the block is required. Separately, the CHP took eight environmental samples from the washrooms of the units of the additional confirmed cases as a precautionary measure and all were negative. The members also considered that the touching of common facilities, such as letterbox, lift and entrance gate may have caused the transmission or cross infection. The CHP strongly urges the public, especially the residents concerned, to maintain at all times strict personal and environmental hygiene.

     The CHP again urged members of the public to maintain an appropriate social distance with other people as far as possible in their daily lives to minimise the risk of infection. In particular, they should go out less and avoid social activities such as meal gatherings or other gatherings to reduce the chance of contacting infected persons who may not present any symptoms, and minimise the risk of outbreak clusters emerging in the community.
   
     A spokesman for the CHP said, “Given that the situation of COVID-19 infection remains severe and that there is a continuous increase in the number of cases reported around the world, members of the public are strongly urged to avoid all non-essential travel outside Hong Kong.
 
     “The CHP urges the public to maintain at all times strict personal and environmental hygiene, which is key to personal protection against infection and prevention of the spread of the disease in the community. On a personal level, members of the public should wear a surgical mask when having respiratory symptoms, taking public transport or staying in crowded places. They should also perform hand hygiene frequently, especially before touching the mouth, nose or eyes.
 
     “As for household environmental hygiene, members of the public are advised to maintain drainage pipes properly, regularly pour water into drain outlets (U-traps) and cover all floor drain outlets when they are not in use. After using the toilet, they should put the toilet lid down before flushing to avoid spreading germs.”
 
     Moreover, the Government has launched the website “COVID-19 Thematic Website” (www.coronavirus.gov.hk) for announcing the latest updates on various news on COVID-19 infection and health advice to help the public understand the latest updates. Members of the public may also gain access to information via the COVID-19 WhatsApp Helpline launched by the Office of the Government Chief Information Officer. Simply by saving 9617 1823 in their phone contacts or clicking the link wa.me/85296171823?text=hi, they will be able to get information on COVID-19 as well as the “StayHomeSafe” mobile app and wristband via WhatsApp. 
 
     To prevent pneumonia and respiratory tract infection, members of the public should always maintain good personal and environmental hygiene. They are advised to:
 
• Wear a surgical mask when taking public transport or staying in crowded places. It is important to wear a mask properly, including performing hand hygiene before wearing and after removing a mask;
• Perform hand hygiene frequently, especially before touching the mouth, nose or eyes, after touching public installations such as handrails or doorknobs, or when hands are contaminated by respiratory secretions after coughing or sneezing;
• Maintain drainage pipes properly and regularly (about once a week) pour about half a litre of water into each drain outlet (U-trap) to ensure environmental hygiene;
• Cover all floor drain outlets when they are not in use;
• After using the toilet, put the toilet lid down before flushing to avoid spreading germs;
• Wash hands with liquid soap and water, and rub for at least 20 seconds. Then rinse with water and dry with a disposable paper towel. If hand washing facilities are not available, or when hands are not visibly soiled, performing hand hygiene with 70 to 80 per cent alcohol-based handrub is an effective alternative;
• Cover your mouth and nose with tissue paper when sneezing or coughing. Dispose of soiled tissues into a lidded rubbish bin, then wash hands thoroughly; and
• When having respiratory symptoms, wear a surgical mask, refrain from work or attending class at school, avoid going to crowded places and seek medical advice promptly. read more

Subsidy Scheme for Employment Agencies to be introduced under Anti-epidemic Fund

     The Labour Department (LD) today (June 2) announced that a Subsidy Scheme for Employment Agencies (EAs) will be introduced under the Anti-epidemic Fund to assist EAs to tide over the difficulties arising from the COVID-19 epidemic. 

     An LD spokesman said, “The business of EAs has been affected by the COVID-19 epidemic. In particular, the business of EAs that provide foreign domestic helper (FDH) placement services has been greatly affected as some overseas countries have suspended the processing of new and contract renewal applications of FDHs. At the same time, EAs that do not provide FDH placement services have also been affected due to the economic downturn brought about by the COVID-19 epidemic and the worsening unemployment situation in Hong Kong. In view of the above, the Anti-epidemic Fund Steering Committee endorsed on May 29 a proposal to provide a one-off subsidy to EAs to help them tide over this difficult time.”

     Under the Scheme, a one-off lump sum subsidy will be granted to EAs with a valid licence issued by the LD. A subsidy of $50,000 will be granted for each main licence of an EA which provides FDH placement services. For EAs which do not provide FDH placement services, a subsidy of $30,000 will be granted for each main licence. An additional subsidy of $10,000 will be granted for each duplicate licence for a branch office of both kinds of EA.

     The Scheme will be open for application in the second half of June 2020. All EAs holding a valid EA licence or having submitted an application for licence renewal in accordance with the Employment Agency Regulations (Cap. 57A) as at May 31, 2020 will be eligible for applying for the subsidy. EAs applying for a subsidy of $50,000 will be required to declare that they had provided FDH placement services on or before May 31, 2020, and may be required to submit documentary proof as necessary. Application details and guidelines will be announced in a press release and uploaded to the LD’s Employment Agencies Portal (www.eaa.labour.gov.hk).   

     For enquiries about the Scheme, please contact the Employment Agencies Administration of the LD at 2115 3667. read more

Man sentenced for breaching compulsory quarantine order

     A 43-year-old man was sentenced to immediate imprisonment for three weeks by the Eastern Magistrates’ Courts today (June 2) for violating the Compulsory Quarantine of Certain Persons Arriving at Hong Kong Regulation (Cap. 599C).

     The man was earlier issued a compulsory quarantine order stating that he must conduct quarantine at a designated hotel in Central for 14 days. When the Police were deployed at the scene on May 20, he was found to have left the place of quarantine and taken off his electronic wristband without reasonable excuse nor permission given by an authorised officer before the expiry of the quarantine order. He was charged with contravening sections 8(1), 8(4) and 8(5) of the Regulation and was sentenced by the Eastern Magistrates’ Courts today to immediate imprisonment for three weeks.

     A spokesman for the Department of Health (DH) said the sentence sends a clear message to the community that breaching a quarantine order is a criminal offence and that the Government will not tolerate such actions. The spokesman reiterated that compliance with quarantine orders is of paramount importance in Hong Kong’s fight against COVID-19.

     Pursuant to the Regulation, save for exempted persons, all persons who have stayed in the Mainland, Macao or Taiwan in the 14 days preceding arrival in Hong Kong, regardless of their nationality or travel documents, will be subject to compulsory quarantine for 14 days. Moreover, pursuant to the Compulsory Quarantine of Persons Arriving at Hong Kong from Foreign Places Regulation (Cap. 599E), starting from March 19, all persons arriving from countries or territories outside China would also be subject to compulsory quarantine for 14 days. Breaching a quarantine order is a criminal offence and offenders are subject to a maximum fine of $25,000 and imprisonment for six months. The DH solemnly reminds persons under quarantine to comply with the statutory requirements and conduct quarantine for 14 days. read more