• SHARE

More than two dozen Hong Kong officials have been ordered to quarantine due to possible COVID-19 exposure, as a scandal widened over a large birthday party they attended despite the government’s own pandemic warnings.

All of the approximate 100 guests at a celebration thrown for a representative of a mainland Chinese agency were being sent to the quarantine camp in Penny’s Bay, local media reported Friday. Some of Hong Kong’s most senior politicians — along with more than 20% of its new “patriots-only” legislature — will be confined to 20-square-meter rooms with no wifi access, just as the government fights an outbreak of the infectious omicron variant.

Those in quarantine include Financial Services Secretary Christopher Hui, Police Chief Raymond Siu, Immigration Director Au Ka-wang, Home Affairs Secretary Caspar Tsui and Independent Commission Against Corruption Commissioner Simon Peh.

Some 30 government officials gathered for the birthday of Witman Hung, a representative for Hong Kong at the Shenzhen Qianhai Authority, on Monday, despite Health Secretary Sophia Chan’s public call to avoid mass gatherings days before. Chief Executive Carrie Lam on Thursday said she was “disappointed” in those officials and announced a probe into the party where at least one guest later tested preliminary positive.

The news came one day after Lam imposed strict pandemic restrictions to stop the local spread of the infectious omicron variant to uphold the city’s COVID-Zero strategy of eliminating the virus from its borders.

The scandal risks feeding further public resentment against Lam’s Beijing-backed government, which has maintained some of the world’s toughest travel curbs, jailed scores of pro-democracy activists, forced newspaper closures and installed a new opposition-free legislature. The incident also comes at an inopportune time for Lam personally, since she must soon decide whether she’ll seek China’s blessing for a second five-year term as leader.

Lam’s efforts on Thursday to dismiss her personal blame — saying accountability “does not mean that I’m responsible of the decisions and actions of my colleagues” — helped fan public criticism. Earlier in the week, she took a hard line over alleged COVID-19 violations by Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd. staff, arguing that “although the management may not be aware of all the actions that each employee takes, it’s not an excuse to not to be blamed.”

Legislative Council President Andrew Leung said at a news briefing Friday that 19 members of the 90-seat Legislative Council were at the party. He added that the legislature would evaluate the COVID-19 situation before deciding whether to hold Wednesday’s opening session in person. “There’s so many things we need to monitor before a final decision can be made,” he said.

The party’s guest of honor, Hung, apologized on Facebook late Thursday for undermining the government’s pandemic efforts. “I will certainly learn a lesson and reflect on it deeply,” said Hung, the principal liaison officer for Hong Kong at the Shenzhen Qianhai Authority, who is now in quarantine. Home Affairs Secretary Caspar Tsui also apologized on Facebook after being sent to quarantine Thursday.

This isn’t the first time top Hong Kong government officials have flouted the guidance they’ve asked members of the public to follow. In July, three Hong Kong officials — including Au, the immigration chief — were fined for attending a hotpot dinner that breached virus measures, inflaming resentment toward the government.

In a statement Friday, Au said he’d only briefly attended the party and did not sit down to eat. “Regarding the additional burden to the epidemic prevention work and the disturbance to the public as a result of my personal behavior, I offer my sincere apology to all people of Hong Kong,” he added. “I have reflected on this incident and shall be more vigilant in future.”

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.

SUBSCRIBE NOW

PHOTO GALLERY (CLICK TO ENLARGE)