The Department of Health said on Sunday that it is moving coronavirus briefings for the media online from Monday to minimise the risk of transmission, but a medical expert and journalists' groups have questioned whether the change is necessary.
Officials said they have been trying to step up social distancing at the venue, the Centre for Health Protection's headquarters, and now have the equipment to hold online briefings and have overcome technical issues.
Under the new arrangement, reporters will have to ask their questions in writing, and duplicate questions will be “consolidated for handling”.
But respiratory disease expert Doctor Leung Chi-chiu says the in-person briefing has gone on for almost a year, and there is no reason to believe it poses a health risk.
“People are sitting quite far apart, and [most] of them are having their masks on, and they are not moving around,” he said. “In any case, the risk now should be lower than at the peak of the third or fourth wave.”
Meanwhile, several journalists' groups, including the Journalists Association and staff unions of Mingpao and RTHK, said they are worried the officials would take the opportunity to filter out questions which are deemed inappropriate or embarrassing.
Some reporters have used the phrase "Wuhan virus" at recent briefings, with the hosts reminding them they should call the virus Covid-19.