No one knows why groups disbanded, says CE
Chief Executive Carrie Lam on Tuesday said the national security law has not "horrified people” or prevented them from operating legitimate businesses in Hong Kong, saying no one knows for sure why a number of civil organisations have recently disbanded.
Her comments came a day after Amnesty International said it would close its two offices in Hong Kong by the end of the year citing threats posed by the security law introduced by Beijing last year.
Speaking to reporters ahead of the weekly Exco meeting, Lam said the Basic Law guarantees freedom of speech and association, as she noted the number of mainland and foreign firms in Hong Kong have not dropped.
"Since the enactment of national security law, different associations and individuals have explained or justified their actions on the basis of the national security law. But there's no way that one could prove that is exactly their reason for taking such decision," she said.
"So similarly, I could not comment on this explanation given by an organisation about their departure from Hong Kong."
Lam went on to say that the security law has the "laudable" objective of preventing and suppressing acts that endanger national security, saying organisations should only be worried if they have been using Hong Kong to spread messages or conduct activities that undermine national security.
Separately, the CE also praised proposed changes to the legal aid system that take away defendants’ right to nominate their own lawyers in criminal cases, calling them "sensible, practical and balanced".
The proposal would also reduce the maximum number of cases a lawyer could take up via legal aid.
Lam said the objective of the revamp is to prevent a "monopoly" of legal aid cases by a small group of lawyers, as well as to enhance the transparency of the system.
"I don't think anybody will dispute these very good objectives and hence the package has been approved or endorsed by Legal Aid Services Council," Lam said.
US sets out plans for return of international travel
US President Joe Biden on Monday signed an order imposing new vaccine requirements for most foreign national air travelers and lifting severe travel restrictions on China, India and much of Europe effective on November 8, the White House said.
The extraordinary US travel restrictions were first imposed in early 2020 to address the spread of Covid-19. The rules bar most non-US citizens who within the last 14 days have been in the United Kingdom, the 26 Schengen countries in Europe without border controls, Ireland, China, India, South Africa, Iran and Brazil.
"It is in the interests of the United States to move away from the country-by-country restrictions previously applied during the Covid-19 pandemic and to adopt an air travel policy that relies primarily on vaccination to advance the safe resumption of international air travel to the United States," Biden's proclamation says.
The White House confirmed that children under 18 are exempt from the new vaccine requirements as are people with some medical issues. Non-tourist travelers from about 50 countries with nationwide vaccination rates of less than 10 percent will also be eligible for exemption from the rules. Those receiving an exemption will generally need to be vaccinated if they intend to remain in the United States for more than 60 days.
The White House first discloses on September 20 it would remove restrictions in early November for fully vaccinated air travelers from 33 countries.
The Biden administration also detailed requirements airlines must follow to confirm foreign travelers have been vaccinated before boarding US-bound flights.
Foreign air travelers will need to provide vaccination documentation from an "official source" and airlines must confirm the last dose was at least two weeks earlier than the travel date.
International air travelers will need to provide proof of a negative Covid-19 test taken within 72 hours of departure. The White House said unvaccinated Americans and foreign nationals receiving exemptions will need to provide proof of a negative Covid-19 test within 24 hours of departing. (Reuters)
Polling station at Penny's Bay for Legco elections
Special Covid-19 arrangements will be made for December's Legislative Council elections, including the setting up of a polling station at the Penny's Bay quarantine centre catering to those under isolation.
Announcing the guidelines for the December 19 polls, the chairman of the Electoral Affairs Commission (EAC), Barnabas Fung, said on Monday there will be more than 600 polling stations around town.
But no special arrangements will be made for people who are under home or hotel quarantine. Officials won't set up polling centres at quarantine hotels.
As for a proposal to allow Hong Kong residents who are on the mainland to vote, Fung said the guidelines made no mention of it because it's still being studied by officials.
"If [the border voting booths] are set up, the secretary for constitutional and mainland affairs will of course notify me, but until this moment, he hasn't told me," he said.
Fung also said people who have a fever will be allowed to vote at polling stations.
"As to people with a fever, we'll have a special arrangement, so that they will go into a special voting booth to cast the vote. First, it's to ensure the duration will be short. Secondly, [the booth] will be cleansed after the voting," he told reporters.
He believes it's a reasonable approach based on people's rights and risk assessment.
The EAC chief also said the government has raised the idea of requiring voters to use the LeaveHomeSafe app to enter polling stations, but nothing is set in stone yet.
Polling stations will be open from 8:30am to 10:30pm on December 19, compared with 7:30am to 10:30pm previously.
HK to see smoother governance in next 5 years: CE
Chief Executive Carrie Lam said on Monday she believes the SAR government will see smoother governance and greater achievement in the next five years.
But she told the audience at a forum not to treat that as her re-election bid.
Speaking at her first public event since she fractured her elbow last week, Lam said the city has entered a new stage after going through its toughest time in the past several years.
She expressed optimism towards the government's work moving forward.
"I am almost sure that the next five years will work more satisfactorily. In other words, using my own standards, there will be more achievements," she said.
The CE added that the SAR is now in a good position to map out its future development, with the national security legislation and electoral reform in place.
"We didn't have the courage, the knowledge or what was required to plan for Hong Kong's future, but now... we shouldn't miss the opportunity and be shortsighted when considering Hong Kong's future development."
She cited the Northern Metropolis project as an example, adding that she would be very pleased if the mega development project can be completed in 15 years.
Lam said she was simply sharing her thoughts as the chief executive who has faced four years of challenges, not delivering her re-election platform.
She also called on people who are patriotic and competent to run in the upcoming Legislative Council election, saying those with different views are welcome to join the race as the authorities are not trying to create an "echo chamber".
We can handle two massive projects at once, says govt
Development Secretary Michael Wong on Monday dismissed concerns that officials are biting off more than they can chew by undertaking two massive projects, the Northern Metropolis and Lantau Tomorrow Vision, at the same time.
At a Legco panel meeting, New People's Party legislator Regina Ip asked whether the government is capable of doing this, saying it could lead to an increase in labour and construction costs, as well as delays.
"Please be frank secretary. Do you think you can cope with it? Don't be bureaucratic," she said.
Wong told the legislature: "We have the financial position and our sector has the capacity. We are able to deal with that amount of works."
Councillors also asked if the government will consider relocating the Kwai Chung container terminals, to free up the site for other development.
Wong said the administration has no such plan, but a preliminary study is planned on turning Cheung Chau South into a container terminal.
Customs officers seize pills worth HK$55 million
Customs officers said on Monday they had seized suspected controlled medicine with a street value of around HK$55 million.
Five people, aged between 27 and 41, were arrested at the airport, a Hung Hom warehouse and a logistics centre in Sheung Wan, in an operation that ended early this month.
Officers said around 1.6 million pills were seized, most of them a form of virility medication.
Rita Li, who heads customs' syndicate crimes investigation bureau, said the pills were posted to Hong Kong from India and could have been destined to be repackaged and sent to Europe and the United States.