Covid-19: Expert who criticised Hong Kong’s mass testing project quits radio show about pandemic

©Hong Kong Free Press

Leading Hong Kong University microbiologist Ho Pak-leung has said he stopped appearing on a daily radio programme about the coronavirus outbreak after criticism by some experts of the government’s mass testing programme upset the city’s Chief Executive.

Ho told Commercial Radio he would stop featuring in On a Clear Day – a four-hour-long Cantonese programme aired every weekday. He had been featured for 10 minutes almost every day to share his views on the pandemic, according to the programme’s Facebook post.

Ho Pak-leung. File photo: RTHK screenshot.

The post quoted a message from Ho in which he said he was busy with work and household affairs and would temporarily bid farewell to the programme. “I would like to thank Commercial Radio for offering this opportunity to share pandemic information with the audience since earlier this year. I gained a lot from it as well,” he wrote.

“In the face of the pandemic, the public should remain calm and cope with it on scientific principles. Stay strong!”

Ho previously said on the programme that he was sceptical about the effectiveness of Hong Kong’s planned city-wide Covid-19 mass testing, due to start next Tuesday, in tackling the pandemic.

The government will offers universal community testing over the first two weeks of September at around 300 centres, with the help of mainland Chinese staff. Some experts say mass testing is ineffective compared to more targeted programmes, while pro-democratic politicians and activists have raised suspicions that DNA or other data could be collected for mainland authorities.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam has rejected what she calls conspiracy theories and slammed experts’ criticism of the testing as smears intended to damage Hong Kong-China relations.

“The so-called experts, doctors or members of the public kept finding excuses to stop citizens from participating in the test… There is only one intention behind this: political calculation. They are smearing the central [Beijing] government and it’s an effort to sever Hong Kong’s relations with the central government,” she said this week without naming anyone.

Carrie Lam. Photo: RTHK screenshot.

“Well-known people in society carry a responsibility because they are well known, just like the Chief Executive… I would make a strong plea that well-known people, especially in the relevant professional areas, should really express their views in a more responsible way. Since this is about public health, let’s focus on public health.”

She also urged members of the press to promote the testing in an objective, accurate and impartial manner.

Ho later said that, during the Commercial Radio programme, he was only stating that he personally would not participate but did not ask the public to refrain from taking the test.