After the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, the Government has announced a series of prevention and control measures to reduce the risk of spread of the disease in the community. Compulsory quarantine, on the basis of public health emergency (under Cap. 599 Prevention and Control of Disease Ordinance), is one of the measures in place. From February 8 onwards, all people entering Hong Kong from the Mainland, including Hong Kong residents, Mainland residents as well as other visitors, are required to be subject to mandatory quarantine for 14 days upon their arrival. Even if they are entering from other places, if they have visited the Mainland over the past 14 days, mandatory quarantine is still applicable upon their arrival. Anyone who violated the regulation may face a maximum penalty of imprisonment for six months and a fine of $25,000 upon conviction. We hope that the new measures could further reduce the flow of people between Hong Kong and the Mainland, reducing the risks for a spread of disease in Hong Kong.
The Department of Health would gather evidence and conduct investigations into any contravention of quarantine orders before referring the cases to the Department of Justice for making prosecutorial decisions. Our prosecutors would make such decisions based on available evidence, applicable laws and the Prosecution Code. A prosecution would be commenced if there is sufficient admissible evidence for a reasonable prospect of conviction.
Minimising social contact in the community is another key measure to curb the spread of the virus. Hence, we only arranged a certain number of colleagues, including government counsel, paralegals and supporting staff, to return to office to handle urgent matters and provide basic public services. The reception counters of the Prosecutions Division and the Civil Division remain open over the past few weeks to allow members of the public and the legal profession to serve court documents. The shroff office is also partly open for payment service. Details of the service hours are available from our press release (https://www.doj.gov.hk/eng/public/pr.html).
There are colleagues from different divisions returning to office to handle emergency works including attending urgent court hearings, processing court documents and attending urgent meetings. We have arranged sufficient manpower to provide cleansing service at office to safeguard the health of colleagues. For others, who are given laptops and electronic communication devices, are advised to work at home. I am heartened to learn that the Department of Justice is largely functioning well.
The Judiciary announced that court hearings would be generally adjourned in view of public health considerations but the courts would continue to handle urgent and essential hearings. Colleagues from the Department of Justice have been deployed to attend such hearings to deal with cases including bail applications and sentencing.
I am grateful to all my colleagues for remaining steadfast at their posts at this difficult time. I also urge those who are required to stay at home or other dwelling place for a 14-day quarantine to abide by the law and strictly comply with the quarantine orders. Violation of orders causes spread of the disease and leads to criminal prosecution. Last but not the least, I appeal to all members of the public to join hands with the Government to do their best to prevent and curb the spread of COVID-19 by maintaining good personal hygiene, thereby ending the epidemic as soon as possible.
February 17, 2020