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Hong Kong Must Not ‘Lie Flat’ on Covid, Leader John Lee Says

·2 min read

(Bloomberg) -- Hong Kong must not “lie flat” in its battle with Covid-19, the city’s new leader John Lee said, echoing mainland China’s rejection of the “living with the virus” pandemic philosophy.

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“Regarding anti-epidemic strategies, I do not agree with lying flat, allowing infection numbers to increase arbitrarily, as there will be risks of serious and fatal case number increasing proportionally,” Lee said Wednesday at his first question-and-answer session at the city’s Legislative Council.

Hong Kong must achieve the early identification, isolation and treatment of cases to stop daily Covid cases currently at about 2,000 a day from rising, he added, while also ruling out reverting to stricter travel curbs designed to keep out the virus. The city previously imposed 21-day hotel quarantines on arrivals, though that number has been cut to seven.

The city’s new chief executive hasn’t issued any Covid policies since taking office on Friday, instead saying only that health officials are “reviewing statistics” to see what is possible, leaving the business community guessing on which direction the isolated financial hub’s pandemic strategy is headed.

Xi Warns Against ‘Herd Immunity,’ Vows to Stick With Covid Zero

But in a perhaps telling sign, the security-minded leader’s language on Wednesday echoed that of President Xi Jinping, who last week said strategies such as “herd immunity” and “lying flat” would risk too many lives in the world’s most populous country. Xi’s comments came days before he made a rare trip to Hong Kong to inaugurate Lee.

In China, to “lie flat” is a catchphrase for encouraging inaction. In the pandemic context, it has been equated with the living with the virus policy favored by the US and many Western democracies.

Lee’s government has inherited the problem that plagued former Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s final years in office: how to satisfy demands from the city’s business community to open international borders with Beijing’s requirement to limit virus cases in line with its strict Covid Zero policy -- a key requirement to resume quarantine-free travel with the mainland.

Lee gave no indication how he planned to achieve those contradictory goals on Wednesday, saying only the city must pay the “smallest price for the biggest effect.” He reiterated that his government’s talks on reopening the mainland border would be “pragmatic.”

The former police officer also said at the session his administration aimed to create more public housing at a faster pace and restore Hong Kong’s international reputation, adding that he would announce more policies at his annual October address.

(Updates with details throughout)

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