Hong Kong minister resigns after Omicron karaoke scandal
A senior Hong Kong official has resigned after attending a karaoke birthday party in violation of the city’s strict ‘zero-Covid’ guidelines, embarrassing Carrie Lam’s government as it seeks to brandish its credentials with Beijing
Caspar Tsui, Hong Kong’s home affairs secretary, attended the party alongside 14 other senior officials, including police and immigration chiefs as well as pro-Beijing lawmakers despite a new outbreak of Omicron in the city.
Days after the party news broke, new lawmakers selected as part of Beijing’s “patriots-only” overhaul of the political system held their first meeting, but some were unable to attend because they were quarantined due to the festivities. The reforms eliminated nearly all pro-democracy opposition candidates from the legislature.
“I haven’t set the best example during the recent outbreak,” Tsui said in a statement Monday, in which he also said he had tendered his resignation to Lam.
The overhaul of Hong Kong’s political structures, in which aspiring lawmakers were vetted for their loyalty to China ahead of last year’s parliamentary elections, followed a wider political crackdown on freedom of expression. expression following pro-democracy protests in 2019.
Lam, chief executive of Hong Kong, revealed that Tsui also did not use an official contact-tracing app when he joined the party his administration pushed residents to download. This was despite staying at the party for almost two hours. The party was attended by two revelers who later tested positive for Covid.
“[Tsui’s actions] are disappointing and have inevitably caused embarrassment to himself and the entire administration,” she said.
Sonny Lo, a veteran political commentator, said Tsui’s resignation was an attempt by Lam to hold him “accountable in the new era of Hong Kong”. [governance]as part of legislative reforms.
Lau Siu-kai, vice president of the semi-official Chinese Association for Hong Kong and Macao Studies, a Beijing-based think tank, said Tsui’s resignation was important to boost public confidence in Beijing’s “Hong Kong ruling patriots” principle.
“[Tsui’s resignation not only] helps reduce the damage already done to the government’s credibility,” Lau said. “The government can also show that it is following the chops. . . and can [better justify] its strict pandemic control measures.
Three officials, including Tsui, were sent to a government quarantine camp but were released early after less than two weeks, due to updated policies that shortened the mandatory isolation period for close contacts.
Hong Kong’s strict zero-Covid policy, which requires travelers and close contacts to quarantine in hotels and government facilities, has come under pressure from the latest outbreak. The city has low vaccination rates for the elderly, with just over 30% of people over the age of 80 vaccinated with their first dose.
Lam’s government tried to contain several Covid clusters, including one in a public housing estate where more than 400 positive cases were found in three buildings in a week.
Thousands of social housing residents have since been subjected to closures. The city also ordered the culling of more than 2,000 hamsters after two suspected cases of animal-to-human transmission.
Although not the sole source of the outbreak, local authorities have probed the city’s de facto flag carrier, Cathay Pacific, after its crew was accused of violating quarantine policies, sowing havoc. one of the clusters.
The zero-Covid policy is testing Hong Kong’s already restricted limits on free speech. The government was forced to issue a statement on Sunday clarifying that “generally commenting on and discussing” the effectiveness of its zero-Covid policy was not illegal.
It followed comments by outspoken pro-Beijing lawmaker Junius Ho, suggesting local experts calling on the city to “live with the virus” may be breaking a sweeping national security law imposed by Beijing more than a year ago.