Beijing steps up pressure on Hong Kong over COVID-19 party scandal, Cathay Pacific

The CCP wants 'severe punishment' for Cathay executives after the airline is linked to three COVID-19 outbreaks.
By Raymond Chung and Chun Yam
2022.01.10
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Beijing steps up pressure on Hong Kong over COVID-19 party scandal, Cathay Pacific A Cathay Pacific cargo plane carrying COVID-19 vaccines prepares to dock at Hong Kong International Airport in a Feb. 27, 2021 photo.
AFP

Beijing has asked Hong Kong’s leader to “take swift action” against officials embroiled in a scandal around a birthday party at the center of a large cluster of COVID-19 cases, local media reported on Monday.

The ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is stepping up pressure on the administration of chief executive Carrie Lam, warning that any delay could hurt the government's credibility, the South China Morning Post (SCMP) reported, citing government advisers as saying that suspension, demotion, pay cuts or even dismissal are all possibilities.

Meanwhile, a CCP-backed Hong Kong newspaper on Monday called for criminal prosecution and swift retribution for senior executives at the city's flagship airline after its employees were fired for breaking quarantine rules.

"Loopholes need to be plugged, and the offenders need to be severely punished to prevent others from doing the same," the Ta Kung Pao said in an editorial after the airline was identified by an anti-epidemic taskforce from Beijing as a weak point in Hong Kong's COVID-19 defenses.

"As a major [Hong Kong] company, Cathay Pacific must fulfill its social responsibilities in the fight against COVID-19, not least because it received nearly H.K.$30 billion in government funding during the early stages of the pandemic," the article said, blaming Cathay for involvement in three out of five waves of coronavirus infections in Hong Kong.

"The facts have proved that Cathay's repeated negligence has led to deaths in Hong Kong," it said.

Lam has ordered an inquiry into the behavior of 13 senior government officials who attended the Jan. 3 birthday party of National People's Congress (NPC) delegate Witman Hung, after which two party guests tested positive for COVID-19.

Photos of the party showed Hung and many of his guests warbling into karaoke microphones into the early hours with no masks on at a bash that was attended by dozens of high-ranking establishment figures.

"I have instructed all officials being subject to quarantine that they should not continue to discharge their duties and that they are required to take their own vacation leave for quarantine," she said on Jan. 8.

Also at the party were 19 members of Hong Kong's new "patriots-only" Legislative Council (LegCO) who have so far tested negative.

All party guests and hundreds of their close contacts have now been sent to compulsory government quarantine facilities as the city scrambles to contain a fresh wave of COVID-19 infections.

Senior officials who attended included Home Affairs Secretary Casper Tsui, Director of Immigration Au Ka-wang, police commissioner Raymond Siu and the head of the city's Independent Commission against Corruption, Simon Peh, all of whom have made public apologies along with Witnam Hung.

Au has already paid a fine last year for attending a dinner in a luxury private club in a breach of a COVID-19-related ban on public gatherings of more than four people.

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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