HK quarantine: health chief pledges improvements at Penny’s Bay amid grilling by lawmakers

20-Jan-2022 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 5:02 AM Print This Post

Hong Kong’s health minister has pledged to improve the management of the government’s quarantine facility at Penny’s Bay and to make better use of new technologies to streamline procedures and boost efficiency.

Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan Siu-chee made the pledge as she was grilled on Wednesday by pro-establishment lawmakers who were unsatisfied with the quarantine centre where four lawmakers are currently interned and concerned about two security guards who recently contracted the coronavirus there.

Chan said the government had already increased the manpower at the centre from 600 to 1,000 employees by recruiting officers from the disciplined services, and set up a cross-departmental task force to manage the facility amid a new wave of coronavirus infections.

“Recently, there was a sharp increase in the number of people who needed to be quarantined; and some people’s release from the camp was delayed because they did not finish their tests. We apologise for the inconvenience caused,” she said.

“The health department and Civil Aid Service increased manpower, the Fire Services Department also deployed some officers to help.”

Kicking off the hour-long questioning session, lawmaker Edward Leung Hei, of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB), asked: “How will the government improve the centre’s infection prevention measures and management, so as to prevent its staff from being infected and spreading the virus to the community?”

But Chan would only say that the government was “very concerned” about the confirmed cases involving camp staff, and would continue to raise its employees’ awareness about infection risks.

One security guard was found to be infected this month after posting a notice on the door of a quarantine unit, and another tested positive after having a meal with the first.

Fellow DAB member Horace Cheung Kwok-kwan also complained about the living conditions in the camp, saying they were so poor that quarantine had become a matter of survival.

“The food quality is bad, and residents complained that the telephone hotline was not responsive, but the government insisted that it’s operating well,” he said. “The camp is now managed by the Civil Aid Service; can it be managed by the high-level cross-departmental group instead?”

Chan said that manpower had been increased and that experienced staff were responsible for ensuring faster and more accurate data input and making better use of technology at the facility.

“We’ve been trying to identify the bottlenecks in services, and have already improved their quality… The quarantine period for close contacts is also shortened now,” Chan said.

“We also need to make better use of information technology to improve efficiency… The Civil Aid Service is trying to identify new solutions that can be applied to the camp.”

Chan insisted that government employees at the camp had stepped up communication with quarantined residents through an additional hotline, SMS, email and messaging services.

Twenty lawmakers and 14 senior officials were among those slapped with quarantine orders after they were potentially exposed to coronavirus patients at the birthday party of pro-Beijing figure Witman Hung Wai-man on January 3.

Some legislators sent to Penny’s Bay were allowed to leave early after they were found not to have been exposed, but four remain interned there.

One of the lawmakers who were released early, Junius Ho Kwan-yiu, had complained about the management of the Penny’s Bay centre, and urged Sophia Chan to explain.

Ho said on Wednesday that one way to improve efficiency at the camp was to allow residents to travel to the facility by themselves, rather than being brought there by the government. Chan responded that authorities were reviewing the camp’s management, but did not comment on whether Ho’s suggestion was feasible.

Meanwhile, lawmakers approved a plan on Wednesday to extend video conferencing arrangements to all council meetings held throughout the year.

House Committee chairwoman Starry Lee Wai-king said that under the new plan, all 90 lawmakers could meet virtually if the coronavirus situation became too serious.

The motion will expire on December 31.

Since last year, Legco’s panel and committee meetings were allowed to be held virtually.


Category: Hong Kong

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