People, teams and organisations in Macao who have worked immensely hard and shown incredible courage during the COVID-19 pandemic are given special awards by the Chief Executive and his government.
In the final days of 2019, the first case of COVID-19 was recorded in China. A few weeks later, Macao experienced its initial brush with the coronavirus. The city’s first case was confirmed on 22 January and, from that moment, Macao was part of what became a global pandemic – a pandemic that’s still raging across the world right now. It’s shocking for many people to think that the first day of COVID-19 in the city was a whole year ago.
But Macao – thanks in no small part to its quick-acting government – has not suffered the losses that so many countries and territories across the world have done over the past 12 months. In fact, as we went to print, there had only been 47 COVID-19 cases recorded in the city – 45 of them imported from outside the SAR, according to the Health Bureau (SSM) – with not one person dying as a result of catching the virus.
Measures taken by the government since the outbreak include temperature screenings at border checkpoints and entrances to all public facilities, quarantines for incoming travellers and even border closures at times, including the transport links with Hong Kong. Then there was the cancelling of numerous events last year, the closure of parks and public leisure areas, temporary school and university closures and the strict need for the wearing of facemasks in public alongside the presentation of health declaration forms on entry to public buildings that are still in use today. And the government has also done its best to minimise the economic impacts to the city thanks to all sorts of measures that help both residents and businesses financially. Food and essentials have continued to come in and, if anything, the city’s population has pulled together like never before.
It’s this response by both the government and people of Macao that was at the heart of the Chief Executive’s New Year’s Message on 31 December. In the address, he predicted that the city ‘will certainly win the great battle’ against the pandemic thanks to the ‘constant strengthening of the public health capacity’ and increased vaccine availability in the market. Ho, who has been Chief Executive since 20 December 2019 – just over a month before COVID-19 cases were recorded in the city – also thanked Macao’s healthcare workers and members of the public security forces in the message, as well as expressing gratitude to all of those people who have been on the frontline in the battle against COVID-19.
Ho underlined during his New Year’s Message that in its ongoing fight against the virus, the local government has always given priority to residents’ lives and health. He also thanked the central government and ‘fraternal’ provinces and regions for their strong support, as well as underlining the solidarity and co-operation among the city’s population in tackling COVID-19. And he stressed that thanks to its arduous efforts, Macao has achieved ‘positive results’ in fighting the virus. He pointed out that in spite of the pandemic, Macao’s socio-economic development has been able to remain stable and the population’s quality of life has made further progress.
So, off the back of Ho’s special message, it’s worth celebrating all of those individuals, organisations and groups who have done incredible work in the drive to keep Macao safe and – for want of a better word – normal over the past year. Of course, everyone has played their part and it’s impossible to single out hundreds of thousands of people – but the government has honoured some of those individuals and groups who have made the most outstanding contributions at its annual awards ceremony on 22 January at the Macao Cultural Centre. The Chief Executive gave out Decorations of Honour, Medals of Merit, Medals of Distinguished Service and Honorary Titles as the city’s leading figure has done every year since 2001, following recommendations from the Committee of Nomination of Medals and Honorary Titles.
The awards represent exceptional contributions to Macao’s society during 2020 – and a total of 34 honours were handed out during the ceremony after the honourees were announced on 19 December. In relation to the COVID-19 pandemic, the top award – Decoration of Honour, the Grand Lotus – went to Zhong Nanshan, a leading respiratory disease expert and China’s public face in the fight against the novel coronavirus. He visited Macao last summer to share the mainland’s COVID-19 prevention and control experience and treatments with the city’s medical professionals. He was born in Nanjing in 1936 and is a pulmonologist who earned international fame for managing the SARS outbreak in 2003, leading to him being labelled the ‘SARS hero’. Zhong, who was president of the Chinese Medical Association between 2005 and 2010 and is currently the editor-in-chief of the ‘Journal of Thoracic Disease’, was also awarded the Order of the Republic, China’s highest order of honour, in September for his ‘outstanding contribution to fighting the COVID-19 epidemic’.
Recognising the immense work and bravery that healthcare professionals have gone through this year, the Chief Executive awarded the Macao Health Bureau with the Medal of Merit – Professions and the director of the same bureau, Lei Chin Ion, with the Medal of Merit – Philanthropy. And under the Medal for Distinguished Service – Medal for Community Service, clinical director of the public Conde S Januário Hospital Centre Lo Iek Long, director of the Health Bureau’s Centre for Disease Prevention and Control Lam Chong and co-ordinator of the Control of Communicable Diseases and Surveillance of Diseases Department Leong Iek Hou were honoured for their outstanding performances in their duties at the city’s Novel Coronavirus Response and Co-ordination Centre.
The Medal of Bravery for distinguished services was awarded to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention of the Health Bureau, the Department of Respiratory Medicine of Conde S Januário Hospital of the Health Bureau, the Tourism Crisis Management Office, the Checkpoint Surveillance Department of the Customs Service of Macao, the Infectious Disease Response Ambulance Team of the Fire Services Bureau, the Immigration Department of the Public Security Police Force and the Intelligence and Support Department of the Judiciary Police. Honorific Titles – Merit were also given to the team sent to Africa for anti-pandemic support work, the team that assisted the return of Macao residents stranded in the Hubei Province via a chartered flight and the team that helped ensure the return of Macao residents stranded on cruise ship Diamond Princess in Japan. All in all, after a tough 2020, these honours represent the entire city’s successful fight against COVID-19.
The roll of honour
Other deserving groups and individuals were given awards at the ceremony. Zhong Nanshan wasn’t the only recipient of the Decoration of Honour, the Grand Lotus, as this was also received by Macao’s former Chief Executive Chui Sai On. The 64-year-old led the Macao government for 10 years from December 2009. Before he was Chief Executive, he was Macao’s Secretary of Social Affairs and Culture during the first decade of the establishment of the SAR, between 1999 and 2009.
Also unrelated to the pandemic, former Secretary for Economy and Finance Leong Vai Tac, former Secretary for Public Works and Transport Lau Si Io, former Commissioner-General of the Unitary Police Service and ex-commander of Joint Civil Protection Operations Ma Io Kun, and the Chinese Educators’ Association of Macao were all awarded the Golden Lotus Decoration of Honour, which is the second highest honour in Macao. Retired Court of Final Appeal’s Portuguese judge Viriato Manuel Pinheiro de Lima and the Bank of China’s Macau branch received the Silver Lotus Decoration of Honour, the city’s third most important honour.