The Chief Executive, Carrie Lam, on Friday urged Hong Kong residents not to travel to the mainland in view of the Wuhan virus outbreak, but rejected calls to stop mainlanders coming to the SAR, saying that would be discriminatory.
With pressuring mounting on Lam from various quarters to close the border or ban visitors from the mainland, she insisted that current measures have already greatly reduced the number of arrivals.
However, she noted that 37,000 Hong Kong residents still travelled to the mainland on Thursday, and urged people to avoid any trips there that aren't necessary.
Lam said a complete closure of the border would not be in line with advice given by the World Health Organisation, which has not recommended any restrictions on travel and trade with China.
She added that a ban specifically on mainland visitors, as advocated by many political groups, also goes against WHO advice.
“Let me quote what is in the World Health Organisation statement.. it makes it very clear that countries and governments are cautioned against actions that promote stigma or discrimination,” she said.
Lam also warned against move by a new medical union to vote on a strike plan if the border is not closed.
“I sincerely hope and appeal to our health staff in the Hospital Authority to consider very seriously any plan to have a strike, because at the end of the day, those who suffer will be the patients and Hong Kong’s healthcare system,” she said.
Even as Lam spoke, reports emerged that Singapore was banning all arrivals from the mainland in light of the virus outbreak. Dozens of airlines have stopped flights to China, virtually ending the flow of people from the mainland to several countries.
Asked whether the government's advice that foreign domestic helpers should stay in their employers' homes on their rest days was discriminatory, the Chief Executive said she had not seen the statement on this issued by the Labour Department.
"I just heard what you told me about the Labour Department's advice, I haven't seen it personally," said the top executive.
Lam said the policy was probably aimed at protecting foreign domestic helpers and is part of the government strategy to reduce social contacts.
"That also takes into account the current limited supply of face masks because if they all go out and enjoy their day as we have seen ... on Sundays in various parts of Hong Kong, they are no doubt in a crowd. Which means they have to wear a mask and protect themselves," she said.