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HK orders 'partial border closure' to contain virus

2020-01-28 HKT 16:52
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  • HK orders 'partial border closure' to contain virus
Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced on Tuesday that all cross-border rail routes between the mainland and Hong Kong will be halted starting at midnight on Thursday and services at six border checkpoints will be suspended, but stopped well short of a full border closure as the government tries to slam the door shut on the widening outbreak of the Wuhan virus.

At a press conference following an emergency meeting with top ministers and advisors, Lam said the checkpoints for cross-border rail passengers at Hung Hom and West Kowloon will be completely closed for now, while the number of cross-border flights will be halved and the number of cross-border buses will be reduced.

Cross border ferries at Tsim Sha Tsui and Tuen Mun will be suspended; and two major border checkpoints at Sha Tau Kok and Man Kam To will be closed to all passenger traffic, although drivers carrying goods will be allowed to cross.

However, other major border control points such as Lowu and Lok Ma Chau will remain open, with the government saying "there is still a travelling need for some members of public."

Authoriteis said from January 30, four local airlines, including Cathay Pacific Airways, Hong Kong Airlines, Cathay Dragon and Hong Kong Express, will gradually reduce flights between Hong Kong and 24 Mainland destinations from about 480 flights weekly to about 240 flights until further notice.

Meanwhile, Lam said mainland authorities have agreed to suspend its 'individual visit scheme' – where mainlanders are allowed to travel to the SAR without joining a package tour. This effectively means no mainland tourists will be allowed into Hong Kong for the time being, as all package tours had already been suspended as part of previously-announced disease-control measures.

However, business travellers and those coming to Hong Kong for family reunions or other ‘legitimate’ or ‘humanitarian’ reasons, Lam says, will still be allowed in.

And, after the government came under fire for its decision to treat anyone placed into isolation suspected of having contracted the virus for free, Lam said the Hospital Authority will start charging non-residents at cost for any treatment they receive.

She said the government did not want exert additional pressure on the local healthcare system by luring in any sick people from across the border.

But Lam rubbished what she said was ‘fake news’ that Hong Kong's health infrastructure would be used as part of the national effort to contain the virus, saying such allegations were 'ridiculous'.

Lam also said the authorities would be dropping another controversial initiative -- to use unoccupied public housing estates for quarantine purposes. Angry Fanling residents had blocked roads and hurled petrol bombs by Fai Ming Estate on Sunday, a day after the government said it planned to use the estate to house close contacts of those infected with the new coronavirus, as well as healthcare staff in need of accommodation.

The Secretary for Security, John Lee, said if necessary, officials will look at placing further restrictions on road traffic to and from the mainland – by cutting short the hours that people are allowed to cross, or by setting a cap on the maximum number allowed in and out.

And health chief Sophia Chan said authorities would also start checking the temperatures of all departing air passengers at the airport, to minimise the possibility that they could be carrying the virus elsewhere.

The government had previously said it was closing public facilities like sports centres, beaches, and museums, to prevent large groups of people from gathering in one place and potentially infect others with the deadly virus, after it raised the alert level to 'emergency' – the highest level. All schools will extend their Lunar New Year holidays to mid-February; civil servants have been told to work from home; and private firms have been urged to allow workers to do the same.

Eight people here have been confirmed with the virus, with no fatalities, but thousands have been infected in the mainland, with more than 100 dead.

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Last updated: 2020-01-28 HKT 21:26