Hong Kong’s leader has said the government will strike a balance between achieving social distancing and ensuring the normal functioning of society amid the coronavirus pandemic, pointing to this as a reason for allowing horse racing to continue.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor made the remarks on Tuesday as the Jockey Club earlier announced races would continue mainly for horse owners, trainers and jockeys, and that the public would not be allowed to enter the racecourse.
Hong Kong recorded 21 coronavirus infections on Tuesday, taking the city’s total to 935.
Speaking in a weekly media briefing on Tuesday, Lam said authorities would not hesitate to take stricter measures to enforce social distancing if verbal warnings did not work and more than four people continued to gather in public places.
Some residents have been slapped with fines for violating the ban on gatherings. This included six men each of whom were ordered to pay HK$2,000 after authorities found them playing chess outdoors in Kwai Chung.
There will be no public galleries. There will be very stringent requirements before horse racing could continue
Carrie Lam, Hong Kong chief executive
Some of the restrictions, including a forced closure of public entertainment venues, are set to be lifted from the next week.
On whether the bans would be extended, Lam said the government would try to strike a balance between achieving social distancing, protecting the economy, and ensuring the normal functioning of society, when taking decisions.
Citing an article written by Gabriel Leung, dean of medicine at the University of Hong Kong, Lam said: “A society cannot stand extreme forms of measures against the virus in the long term.”
She said this was why horse races had been given an exemption under the prohibition on public gatherings and not all eateries were forced to close despite calls to shut down all non-essential businesses temporarily.
“There will be no public galleries. There will be very stringent requirements before horse racing could continue,” she said.
Leung, the dean from the University of Hong Kong, in his article also proposed that a formal framework should be set up for governments to collect data on the real-time reproduction rate of the coronavirus. Based on the figures, officials could assess whether, and how, their health systems could deal with the outbreak, and whether people could cope with the disruption of the economy, he said.
Defending the exemption granted to the Jockey Club on horse racing, a government spokesman said the four race days in Sha Tin and Happy Valley racecourses were “exceptional and serve the public interest of Hong Kong”.
He said several conditions had been attached, including no admittance of the public, while citing a number of factors as justifications, including providing “stay-home” entertainment for racing fans, the need to discourage illegal betting such as online gambling, and the Jockey Club’s status as one of the largest charity donors in the city.
Another factor was the need to “showcase the tenacity of Hong Kong racing, which forms an important component in the international racing fixtures,” the spokesman said.
“In granting exemption, the chief secretary has struck a reasonable balance between achieving the objective of social distancing on the one hand and permitting certain activities that serve the public interest of Hong Kong to take place on the other.”
Additional reporting by Victor Ting
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This article Coronavirus: Hong Kong will strive for balance between social distancing and normal functioning of society, Carrie Lam says, pointing to horse races first appeared on South China Morning Post