【明報專訊】The new term of the Legislative Council (LegCo) has begun. During the question-and-answer session, the Chief Executive (CE) denied that the government's anti-epidemic work over the past two years had been riddled with mistakes, arguing instead that lawmakers should not ''level groundless accusations against hardworking anti-epidemic personnel''. Hong Kong has undoubtedly done a better job than most regions in the world in terms of minimising the cumulative numbers of confirmed cases and deaths. This is the fruit of a concerted effort. Tens of thousands of front-line personnel and medical workers have made indispensable contributions. Yet, there have been loopholes in the prevention of imported cases, poor execution and arrangements by the government and inadequacies in the supporting measures—things that have been discussed by all classes of society repeatedly over the past two years.
The new term of the LegCo after the electoral reform held its first meeting yesterday (12 January), marking a ''new era'' in Hong Kong's parliamentary politics. Due to the birthday party saga, the new term did not ''start fresh'' with the presence of all members, as some of them had to be in quarantine at Penny's Bay or at home. The CE's question-and-answer session became the focus. Unlike the intense confrontation between the pan-democratic and pro-establishment camps in the past, yesterday's meeting was not very emotionally charged. Some of the councillors' questions were relatively pointed, but the tone of the CE's answers seemed to be even tougher. Amid the uproar caused by the birthday party saga, Carrie Lam stressed that there will be an investigation into whether the officials who attended the party had broken any pandemic restriction rules. During yesterday's question-and-answer session, no political party members or lawmakers asked about this. Concerning the topic of pandemic restrictions, most discussion was about the violation of in-house rules by aircrew members exempt from quarantine, and Cathay Pacific was the common target of criticism for the CE and some lawmakers.
On one hand, some lawmakers said that arrangement for Cathay aircrew to ''depart on passenger flights and return on cargo planes'' was a loophole more serious in nature than the birthday party saga. Meanwhile, Carrie Lam said that investigations showed that actually, some Cathay aircrew members shouldn't have earned quarantine exemptions via boarding a cargo plane back to Hong Kong, and that the government will take legal action if there is sufficient evidence. On the other hand, Cathay has emphasised to the media that from July to December last year, thousands of aircrew members were on duty aboard passenger planes departing from Hong Kong and stopped briefly at overseas destinations, during which they were completely isolated from the local communities, before returning to the city on cargo planes. The company is confident that the relevant duty roster arrangements ''fully comply'' with the Hong Kong government's anti-epidemic regulations at the time.
In November last year, government expert advisors proposed implementing a ''vaccine passport'' to boost the vaccination rate. The government had originally planned to enforce it at the end of this month. It is strange that while the authorities were preparing to boost the vaccination rate, they also reduced the number of community vaccination centres from 21 to 10 early this month. With the outbreak of the fifth wave, the number of vaccinated people has increased sharply. Many wanted to get the jab, only to find that the slots for the next few weeks had already been fully-booked. All this has made people feel that the government's countermeasures against the pandemic have been poorly arranged. Hong Kong's case numbers are already very low. Still, the government seems flustered in its response to the situation. If, unfortunately, a major outbreak happens, the inadequacy of anti-epidemic facilities will be unimaginable.
明報社評 2022.1.13：抗疫配套安排差 市民受罪排長龍
■/ Glossary / 生字 /
be riddled with sth：to be full of sth, especially sth bad or unpleasant
concerted：a concerted effort etc is done by people working together in a carefully planned and very determined way
uproar：a situation in which there is a lot of public criticism and angry argument about sth that sb has said or done
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