Dozens of senior officials and legislators in Hong Kong have been sent into a 21-day quarantine after they attended a birthday party despite the government’s own pandemic warning.
The embarrassing incident came as the city’s new “patriots only” legislature is scheduled to hold its first meeting next week. Concerns had been raised in recent weeks after a number of Omicron cases were identified in Hong Kong. Health officials say they cannot rule out hidden clusters in the community.
Hong Kong’s chief executive, Carrie Lam, said it was a “deep disappointment” that her bureaucrats ignored the government’s own advice on avoiding large gatherings in the middle of an Omicron outbreak. On Friday, Lam ordered an inquiry into the behaviour of 13 senior government officials who attended party.
In a statement, she ordered “detailed” investigations “as to whether the attendance of officials at the banquet constitutes any breach of discipline”.
The party, held at a Spanish tapas restaurant earlier in the week, was to celebrate the 53rd birthday of Witman Hung Wai-man, a local delegate to China’s top national legislature. The well-connected politician invited a long list of the city’s political establishment, ranging from the home affairs secretary to the security chief.
At least 19 members of the 90-seat legislative council, who were sworn in this week, were also among the 170 attendees. One of the lawmakers, Junius Ho, travelled to Shenzhen two days after the party and met a top Beijing official there.
“I am very disappointed, because this anti-pandemic work has persisted for so long, so many of us have been working so hard to fight against the pandemic, so as principal officials of the administration, we should lead by example and refrain from taking part in private events,” Lam said on Thursday.
Lam tried to distance her administration from the incident. She said the officials had failed to follow the rules by attending “clearly a private event, and not a function required by public duty”.
On Friday, one of the affected officials, Au Ka-wang, the city’s immigration director, offered his apology to the public and said he had “reflected on this incident and shall be more vigilant in future”. Last year, Au was fined for breaching social distancing rules at a hotpot dinner.
Critics say this incident is likely to further dent the public’s trust in Lam’s administration, which is already at a low point since the mass protests in 2019. A recent poll showed that less than a quarter of those surveyed in Hong Kong approved of the government’s performance.
Days before the incident, Lam summoned top officials from Cathay Pacific airlines and said they must take responsibility for their aircrew breaching self-isolation rules even if “they may not know their employees’ every act”.