I am delighted that you and your sons like my song “Beat the Virus”, which I wrote to boost the morale of Hong Kongers in the pandemic. As your mentor, I applaud your wise parenting, spending time with your children amidst your busy schedule as a front line doctor; and I appreciate your sense of humour to laugh along with your colleagues watching the video together.
Indeed, stressful doctors and nurses in the pandemic have to keep mentally healthy and happy, in the face of daily challenges. We need to relax often when we face excessive expectations, demands and frustrations. While no health workers were infected in the first and second waves, many doctors and nurses were infected in the fourth wave. A doctor was even admitted to the ICU. In the third and fourth waves, more than 150 citizens died, as compared to 8 deaths in the first and second waves.
It is really high time for the Government to classify Covid-19 as an “occupational disease” for those who got infected through their work.
It is worrying that despite restrictive social distancing measures since November, the number of daily confirmed cases failed to return to single digits, with many cases of unknown origin.
Hong Kongers must continue to be vigilant in masking, social distancing, staying home, avoiding social gatherings, and washing hands with soap water or disinfecting them with alcohol sanitizers for 20 seconds after touching objects or before touching face, eyes, nose and mouth.
However, I observe that many people don’t wear masks properly, failing to cover the nostrils; many touch their masks frequently and do not sanitize their hands after touching the polluted masks; some pull the masks down to the neck when they drink, eat or smoke, thus contaminating the inside of the masks by the droplets on the exposed neck and when they pull the masks up again, the contaminated inside of the mask would touch the nose and mouth.
I know your husband John is a smoker. As smokers are more vulnerable to Covid-19 infection, he is endangered especially if he, like many others who smoke in the streets, pull their masks down; and the pedestrians around him would also be at risk.
These loopholes could account for the cases with unknown origin.
To end this pandemic nightmare, mass vaccination is now hailed as light at the end of the tunnel; and in many countries, vaccination has already begun. The Hong Kong Medical Association has liaison with medical associations around the world. The President of the Israel Medical Association told me that Israel has already vaccinated 2 million, that is 22% of its 9.3 million population.
Our Government has ordered 7.5 million doses each of the three chosen types of Covid 19 vaccines : Sinovac, Pfizer-BioNTech and AstraZeneca-Oxford; and it is announced that vaccination will begin around the Lunar New Year, in Community centers, Government and private clinics, and elderly homes.
For mass vaccination to succeed, the Government must try its best to educate the public about the need for vaccination; and to fend off misconceptions and false messages, especially the fallacies wrapped in pseudoscience, denouncing the vaccines.
The choice of vaccines , should of course be based on published peer reviewed scientific research data , rather than emotional or political considerations.
For herd immunity to develop, we should vaccinate at least 80% of the population, or over 2/3 of the population within this year, i.e. 5 million of our 7.5 million people, with 2 injections for each person, amounting to 28,000 injections per day.
So this is a daunting task which requires resolute leadership, with seamless inter-departmental cooperation and collaboration of different bureaus. The Government needs well-planned user-friendly logistics. Transparency builds confidence. People need “informed choices”, with pre-vaccination consent, and 15-30 minutes’ rest time after vaccination. Resuscitation equipment should also be available at each vaccination centre, although severe allergic reaction is extremely rare. Israel has only one reported case of anaphylaxis in the 2 million vaccinees, and the person had recovered without complications.
As a doctor, you know vaccines take weeks to develop immunity. As the elderly were more susceptible to Covid-19 infection, all elderly citizens and all staff working in the elderly homes should be vaccinated as early as possible.
Scientific researches have found Vitamin D supplement useful in the prevention and management of Covid-19 infection; and in the reduction of mortality of Covid-19 patients, though there is still ongoing debate, pending randomized controlled trials. As citizens are advised to stay home due to Covid-19 pandemic, many Asians with coloured skin cannot produce sufficient Vitamin D in the winter. Vitamin D is not only vital for our bones but also important for our immune system. 4000 iu of Vitamin D per day has been advised for adults to maintain a serum level of 50 nmol/litre of 25 OH Vit D. Overweight people are suggested to take 1.5 times more the usual dosage.
As the elderly are prone to Vitamin D deficiency, I urge the Government to provide Vitamin D for all elderly over 65 years of age for the potential protective benefit. Daily Vitamin D fortifications could be given to residents in the elderly homes. In fact, mandatory Vitamin D fortification of milk products has already been implemented in Canada and Sweden.
As incentives for the mass vaccination programme, the Government could consider giving out Vitamin D supplement for all Covid-19 vaccinees when they leave the venues, together with educational materials on the vital role of Vitamin D in our immune system, and a vaccination certificate or code, good for job applications, travelling, reopening of restaurants, gyms, theatres and businesses alike.
Vaccination is not 100% protection. We need to continue proper masking, social distancing, hand hygiene, and daily Vitamin D fortification.
Jane, keep up your morale with good mood while working hard with dignity and passion in the frontline, especially during this difficult time when doctors are often misunderstood and unfortunately, even demonized in Hong Kong.
Thank you for encouraging me to stand for the Medical Council election last autumn. With your support I was elected again. The Medical Council, made up of both doctors and non-medical members representing the benefits of patients, plays the important role of upholding the standard of Hong Kong’s doctors, safeguarding the health of all citizens and serving the interests of all people in Hong Kong.
In closing, I pray that God will bless your family and all Hong Kongers with good physical, mental and spiritual health in the New Year!
Yours sincerely, Uncle Alvin
In September this year, the Education Bureau (EDB) cancelled the registration of a primary school teacher. The teacher was accused of preparing lesson plans and learning materials that involved a so-called "well-planned dissemination" of the message of "Hong Kong independence", which constituted a serious professional misconduct. The then Principal and Vice-principal of the school were also reprimanded by EDB for mismanagement, while teachers who used the same teaching materials received warning letters. The incident was shocking not only to the education sector but also to our society. It should be noted that cancelling a teacher’s registration means that he or she is permanently debarred from teaching. Worse still, it may mean that he or she will henceforth not be able to step into any school campus, which is much more devastating than a simple dismissal!
To the best of my understanding, the teacher is wholly innocent!
In March last year, the teacher designed lesson plans and worksheets for the subject of Life Education for primary five and six students of the school to discuss freedom of speech. Students were asked to watch RTHK program ‘Hong Kong Connection’ that touched on the issues of freedom of speech and how it was affected by the sensitive issue such as Hong Kong independence. Students were required to reply questions on a worksheet. Half a year later in September, a pro-establishment newspaper published the worksheets and smeared the teacher for advocating Hong Kong Independence. EDB received a complaint from ‘a parent’ and thus requested the school to submit a report. EDB also sent officers to the school to conduct an investigation. The internal investigation report conducted by the school concluded that the teacher did not have any intentions to disseminate the message of "Hong Kong independence" absolutely, but EDB overruled the report and disciplined the teacher with extreme punishments.
EDB’s press conference on 6th October, the teacher was depicted as a most vicious ‘bad apple’. The Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union (HKPTU) has been following the case to gain a deep understanding of the situation and holds that the EDB’s arguments are ridiculous. The whole incident reflects that EDB’s investigation was conducted solely by itself and conducted within a black-box, de-registration mechanism lacks transparency. Issuing a red card to the teacher in this case, the discipline was totally incorrect and disproportionate.
We have many questions to the EDB:
The teacher was only responsible for creating the lesson plans but did not deliver the lessons. All education professionals are aware that lesson plans serve as reference only. Teachers understand the background from the lesson plans and rarely stick strictly to them in class. EDB did not conduct any investigation on the actual classroom delivery of the lessons and concluded their accusation solely based on the content written in the lesson plans. Is that a professional investigation?
EDB said that the teacher overestimated students’ comprehension skills, but the students of this primary school seem to exhibit more advanced skills than their peers. Life Education teaching materials for the previous classes include topics about the Islamic State of Iraq, North Korea and Brexit, which might be deemed inappropriate by the Bureau as well. However, some of the topics were in fact proposed by the students themselves and were well received. Whether these topics are appropriate for the young kids should not be judged on the surface. It actually depends on how the teachers assess the abilities and interests of the kids and also how the topics were dealt with.
EDB paid an unannounced visit to the school in Sep last year without saying that it’s an investigation. The officials interviewed a sample of students whom were chosen by them. The students unanimously said the topic of the class was freedom of speech, the teacher did not advocate Hong Kong Independence, and that they personally did not support Hong Kong Independence. So why did the Bureau never disclose this information?
In the press conference in Sep this year, one EDB official accused the teacher of spending 50 minutes in the lesson to account for the objectives of the Hong Kong National Party, 35 minutes to discuss topics about the division of the country such as Tibet independence and Taiwan independence. Did EDB gain an understanding of whether the time planning was actually practiced in class? Did the Bureau know that the information was just cited as an example for teachers’ reference but not the focus of teaching?
The officials criticized in the press conference that according to the lesson plan, there was no room for students to express their opinions and could only memorize and write down the video contents. Therefore the teacher was imposing thoughts and concepts on students. Yet, according to what we know, as a matter of fact, the students were involved in discussion and did have room to offer their own opinions. Besides, in the video played in class, guests from both pro- and against- stances were interviewed. For example, Senior Counsel Ronny Tong Ka-wah said, ‘Freedom of speech never extends to harm national security’. Why did the Bureau not mention in the press conference that the teaching content also included these anti-independence standpoints?
Furthermore, the bureau said the teacher was offered two opportunities for written arguments, but the teacher requested to meet in person to clearly respond to the accusations. Why did the Bureau decline such a request? Is it not an abuse of power to decide on such extreme disciplines without a meeting? We can see that even the teacher’s request for an oral hearing was rebuffed by EDB. How can we say that justice exists?
At the Legislative Council meeting on 28 October, I raised a written question, asking EDB to provide specific procedures for canceling a teacher’s registration, such as details of the professional team comprising directorate staff established by EDB to handle the case, including the team’s membership list and specific workflow. Unfortunately, EBD failed to respond to my questions. EDB did not provide the team’s membership list, the number of team members, or the team’s powers. Nor did EDB provide statistics on anonymous complaints and self-initiated investigations relating to teachers suspected of violating regulations.
In response, EDB simply repeated that complaints were handled in a ‘strict, careful and impartial’ manner in accordance with ‘established mechanisms and procedures’. EDB did not provide any reason why the teacher had not been given an opportunity to orally defend himself or herself. Nor did EDB provide any justifications and reasons for its ruling of professional misconduct.
At present, regulatory matters relating to teachers are predominated by EDB: an executive organization taking charge of the entire procedure of investigations, adjudications, and the meting out of penalties. More than 60% of respondents in a recent public opinion survey considered that cancelling the teacher’s registration was a political decision. By reference to the way in which other professions in Hong Kong including doctors, nurses, social workers, lawyers and accountants are regulated, I requested EDB to establish an independent statutory body to handle matters including registrations and complaints with self-regulation as the basic principle.
Regarding the de-registered teacher, we will certainly do our utmost to assist the teacher to secure justice. We had already lodged an appeal to the Appeal Boards Panel (Education) through a legal team, and now we are waiting for the feedback. If failing which, we will approach the court and initiate a judicial review. We will definitely fight to the end!