Hong Kong will close more of its border crossings from midnight – leaving just the airport, Shenzhen Bay, and Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge open – with the government saying the move will protect the city from a wider outbreak of the mainland's new coronavirus.
But Chief Executive Carrie Lam again insisted that the borders cannot be sealed completely, as many are demanding, because of a "genuine and legitimate" need for a lot of Hong Kong people to travel to and from the mainland.
The busy crossings connected to the MTR at Lo Wu and Lok Ma Chau are among those closing, and no ferries at all will be running between the SAR and the mainland or Macau.
At a press briefing on Monday afternoon, Lam said earlier steps to close several border crossings, halt the express rail and Guangzhou train services, and reduce the number of flights to the mainland, had already slashed the number of inbound travellers.
She said with the new closures, staff can be diverted to the checkpoints still open to carry out more thorough medical checks on people hoping to enter the SAR.
"We can release a rough estimate of about 1,000 civil servants from the control points to suspend operations, into these remaining open control points," she said.
Lam said the decision to sever even more connections with the mainland is not related to an ongoing strike by Hospital Authority workers, and those using "extreme action" to try to force the government's hand will not succeed.
She said the closures should not be seen as a U-turn, but a move in line with the government's existing strategy.
Immigration Department figures show more than 60 percent of the 11,715 mainlanders who arrived in Hong Kong on Sunday entered via the three border points that are to remain open.
A reporter asked Lam whether she is acting against the interests of the Hong Kong people. Lam denied this, saying as the head of the government, she has to take care of the public's overall needs and interests.
Pressure had been mounting on the government to take further steps to help prevent the spread of the new coronavirus in the community, with pro-establishment politicians adding their voices to calls for tougher immigration restrictions at the border.
Fifteen people in Hong Kong have tested positive for the virus so far. There have been no deaths from the illness in the SAR to date.