2 senior officials catch Covid-19, potentially causing major disruptions to Hong Kong handover celebrations

Plans to ensure that the government’s celebration of the 25th anniversary of the handover of Hong Kong to Chinese rule runs smoothly have been thrown into serious doubt after two senior officials contracted Covid-19.

The officials in question, Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Erick Tsang and Director of the Chief Executive’s Office Eric Chan — both of whom will also be serving in the new cabinet — appeared at the same event as Chief Executive-elect John Lee just four days before the announcement of their positive results.

The government announced in a press release on Thursday evening that the two had tested positive for Covid-19 through PCR tests.  

“They are undergoing isolation in accordance with the guidelines of the Centre for Health Protection of the Department of Health,” the statement read. 

Current guidelines require those who have been diagnosed with the virus, but have no or mild symptoms and have received two doses of a Covid-19 vaccine, to isolate in a community facility or at home for at least seven days. If they get a negative result on the sixth and seventh day after testing positive, they can end their isolation.

Tsang last went to work on Wednesday, while Chan last went to work on Monday.

They wore masks and followed relevant disease prevention measures at work, including rapid antigen tests conducted daily with negative results obtained, the statement read.

They have no recent travel history. 

Tsang’s wife, Commissioner of Customs and Excise Louise Ho, tested negative for Covid-19 through a PCR test.  

She was identified as a close contact after an assessment conducted by the center and is also currently undergoing quarantine in accordance with its guidelines.

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Chan has been undergoing quarantine since Monday after his wife has earlier tested positive for the coronavirus.

The Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau and the Chief Executive’s Office said they would conduct thorough cleanings and disinfections at the offices concerned and would arrange for relevant staff members to undergo Covid-19 tests.

The pair appeared at a press conference last Sunday with Lee, during which the incoming chief executive announced that Chan will take office as chief secretary from July 1, while Tsang will remain in his position as secretary for constitutional and mainland affairs.

The government told the media that Lee did a PCR test on Wednesday and got a negative result.

Incumbent Chief Executive Carrie Lam last met Chan on Monday for a brief chat and had not met Tsang for more than a week. As she was wearing a mask and maintained a distance from Chan, she is not considered a close contact.

The government said Lam has been tested daily and has been getting negative results.

It also said it would closely monitor the developments and make appropriate arrangements.

Lee and his new cabinet are due to be sworn in on July 1.

According to invitations received by lawmakers and politicians attending the official handover ceremony, a guest cannot attend the event if his or her family members or drivers have had a positive PCR or rapid antigen test result or if they exhibit any symptoms between now and July 1.

News of Tsang and Chan catching the virus adds to the uncertainty over whether Chinese President Xi Jinping will come to Hong Kong for the handover celebration events, during which Lee will take office.

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The government has been tight-lipped about whether the Chinese leader will attend amid a rise in Covid-19 infections in the city.

Xi last visited Hong Kong in 2017 during the 20th anniversary and when Lam took over leadership.

Given the significance of the 25th-anniversary event, the government has implemented strict measures on participants, including requesting them to only travel directly between their place of residence and workplaces and isolate themselves in a hotel room on June 30.

The spread of the virus within the government could also be more serious than first thought, with Permanent Secretary for Development (Works) Ricky Lau testing positive for Covid-19 through a PCR test on Thursday as well.