Govt adopts measures to reduce health risk at budget preview

February 25, 2020 12:54
Financial Secretary Paul Chan is going to deliver his budget speech this Wednesday. Photo: HKEJ

Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po is set to unveil his annual budget this Wednesday.

As a long-standing practice, the government will arrange for the media to attend a closed-door “preview” session at 9 a.m. on Wednesday, during which journalists will be allowed to go through the financial chief’s speech in advance.

Such an arrangement, however, is said to have sparked concerns among top administration officials about the potential public hygiene risk posed by a large-scale indoor event amid the raging novel coronavirus epidemic.

In view of such concerns, the Financial Secretary's Office (FSO) has devised several preventive measures to guard against the risk.

According to the FSO’s announcement last week, the preview session will be held at the Civil Service Training And Development Institute located at the North Point Government Offices. Previously, they were held at the Central Government Offices (CGOs) or the Harbour Building in Sheung Wan, where the Information Services Department (ISD) is located.

Also, each media outlet can only send a maximum of nine representatives to attend the session, and all attendees will have their body temperature checked before entering the venue.

All officials and reporters will have to wear face masks at all times, and no eating and drinking will be allowed throughout the session, except for drinking water.

Government sources said the measures have been jointly formulated by the FSO and the ISD after discussions.

However, neither the FSO nor the ISD has consulted the Department of Health or any public hygiene expert in formulating the precautionary measures.

And it wasn’t until after the FSO had made it public on Friday afternoon that the Chief Executive’s Office was notified of the special arrangements.

More than 100 reporters and officials are expected to attend the event, prompting some in the SAR government to suggest that the quota for each media outlet be further slashed.

They also proposed that the working areas designated for the media outlets invited to the event be set farther apart from one another to avoid close contact among journalists.

The ISD, however, didn’t accept these extra preventive measures, at least for the time being, sources said.

Another government figure defended the precautionary measures, saying they have struck a reasonable balance between upholding public health safety and gathering the views of media.

The Financial Secretary’s Office stressed that it isn’t a good idea to cancel the preview session for the media.

The government source also noted that the venue chosen for the event, the North Point Government Offices, is much larger than previous locations.

And since the number of journalists invited to the event has already been capped, he believes the place isn’t going to be too crowded.

Another suggestion is to allow the media to preview the budget speech through electronic means, rather than for them to attend a physical session.

But a government source said the suggestion was immediately turned down – out of concern that the content of the speech could be leaked to the public prematurely.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Feb 25

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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RT/CG

Columnist of Hong Kong Economic Journal.