Hong Kong leader says further delay to chief executive election possible amid COVID-19 outbreak
HONG KONG: Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said on Wednesday (Mar 16) that there were no plans to further tighten COVID-19 rules as the city battles to contain an escalating outbreak but said a chief executive election, set for May, had scope to be further delayed.
Lam told a daily press briefing that "legally speaking" there was room to further delay the election for the global financial hub's next leader.
"A further delay cannot be decided by the Hong Kong special administrative region itself, it depends on how the central government sees it," she added.
The election was originally scheduled to be held on Mar 27 but was postponed to May 8 as a wave of the highly transmissible Omicron variant erupted in the Chinese-ruled city in February.
Lam, who has not yet confirmed whether she would seek another term, has seen her administration come under pressure from President Xi Jinping and senior Chinese officials for Hong Kong's handling of the virus.
Chinese netizens have also expressed anger and frustration in recent days at Hong Kong residents flocking to beaches and shopping malls while they faced lockdowns in their own cities.
Some said Hong Kong had failed to control its outbreak and blamed the city for the latest surge of infections on the mainland.
Hong Kong has reported more than 760,000 COVID-19 infections and about 4,500 deaths, most of them in the past three weeks.
The former British colony has followed mainland China's "dynamic zero" policy which seeks to curb all outbreaks as soon as they occur, instead of trying to live with the virus.
But deaths have spiked, particularly amongst its mostly unvaccinated elderly, with the city registering the most deaths per million people globally in the week to Mar 14, according to the Our World in Data publication.
Several local media outlets reported that the government would close beaches from Thursday to prevent large gatherings.
Lam said that as public beaches were already meant to be closed, authorities would just “strengthen management”, for instance by sealing them off.
The city is already facing its most draconian measures since the pandemic started in 2020. Gatherings of more than two people are banned, most venues are shut - including schools - and masks are compulsory everywhere, even when exercising outdoors.
Hong Kong's borders have been effectively sealed for two years with few flights able to land and most transit passengers banned.