China coronavirus: Hong Kong’s pro-establishment party DAB backs proposal to temporarily close border checkpoints with mainland China to control outbreak

Alvin Lum

Hong Kong’s largest pro-establishment party has backed the opposition camp’s proposal to temporarily close the city’s border checkpoints with mainland China to stop the Wuhan coronavirus from spreading in the city, adding pressure on the government to impose a tougher immigration policy.

The Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong said on Tuesday they had asked city leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor in a meeting to consider tougher measures to restrict travellers from regions with virus outbreak from entering Hong Kong.

The medical faculty of Chinese University also called for tougher restrictions to be imposed at the city’s borders, after eight cases of the viral infection were confirmed in Hong Kong by Monday.

The school has joined fellow academics from the University of Hong Kong to call for “more steps” to broaden the scope for a border closure, with the latter predicting the nationwide outbreak would reach its peak between late April and early May.

“We told the government they cannot rule out the idea of closing the border, as we need to isolate or even ban those coming from regions stricken with the viral outbreak from entering the city,” party lawmaker Gary Chan Hak-kan said.

“Special circumstances require special measures,” party leader Starry Lee Wai-king said. “The government should consider closing the border.”

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam was forced to reverse the decision to use a public housing estate in Fanling as a backup quarantine site for medical staff. Photo: Sam Tsang

On Tuesday, Lam also reversed the decision to use a public housing estate in Fanling as a potential quarantine centre, after an outcry from local residents that it was too close to other residential buildings.

The DAB also urged the government to disclose how many visitors from Hubei had entered into Hong Kong, which the government has yet to divulge.

The government on Monday banned residents of Hubei, or any visitor who had been to the province in the last two weeks, from entering into Hong Kong. It has also advised Hongkongers who recently travelled to Hubei to self-quarantine themselves for two weeks.

The central Chinese city of Wuhan – the epicentre of the outbreak – is in Hubei province.

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Another DAB member, Edward Lau Kwok-fun, said the government made a U-turn by abandoning the idea of using Fan Ming Estate in Fanling as a fallback site for quarantining suspected coronavirus patients.

“The chief executive considered the location was not ideal and would look for other locations,” Lau said.

Aerial view of the Tuen Mun Swimming Pool. The Leisure and Cultural Services Department has announced the shutting down of all sports centres, public swimming pools, museums, and libraries from Tuesday until further notice. Photo: Roy Issa

Fanling residents set the complex on fire and staged roadblocks in the area on Sunday following Lam’s announcement to use it as a backup quarantine site or dormitory for medical staff.

Members of Chinese University’s medical school said the coming one to two weeks would be crucial to decide the scale of the epidemic’s outbreak.

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“If there is a community outbreak in neighbouring regions, infected carriers will inevitably enter into Hong Kong,” they warned.

Politicians want the Hong Kong government to consider tougher measures to restrict travellers from regions with virus outbreak from entering the city. Photo: Bloomberg

“We urge the government to restrict immigration policies as early as practicable, including broadening the scope of restrictions to any region stricken with the outbreak other than Hubei, and reinforcing mandatory quarantine and medical surveillance.”

Although border closure would not be able to entirely stop cross-border transmission, the school said this could reduce infected mainlanders from entering the city, taking some pressure off Hong Kong’s medical system.

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Speaking on a RTHK radio programme on Tuesday, Democratic Party chairman Wu Chi-wai said the government was already late in banning Hubei residents from entering the city.

“Hundreds of thousands of people enter Hong Kong through mainland’s borders every day. If we’re not closing the border, we may not be able to stop the virus from spreading,” he said.

Democratic Party chairman Wu Chi-wai says the government was already late in banning Hubei residents from entering the city. Photo: May Tse

Wu also urged the government to open more holiday camps to quarantine Hongkongers who had been to the mainland recently. “Otherwise, Hongkongers returning from the mainland will join work after the Lunar New Year holiday [increasing the chances of further transmission of the virus],” he added.

Pro-establishment lawmaker Michael Tien Puk-sun, also a delegate to the National People’s Congress, also said border closure should be considered, while citing a prediction by the University of Hong Kong that the outbreak might reach its peak in May.

Demand for face masks surges amid virus outbreak in Hong Kong

Meanwhile, the Leisure and Cultural Services Department has announced the shutting down of all sports centres, public swimming pools, museums, and libraries from Tuesday until further notice.

Noting the surge in the demand for face masks amid the outbreak, pro-democracy lawmaker Eddie Chu Hoi-dick urged the government to include masks as reserved commodities under the law, to ensure restriction of its export.

The government said in a statement on Tuesday that it was “studying measures to further reduce the flow of people between Hong Kong and the mainland”, while responding to an online rumour on public forum LIHKG that mainlanders might “use” Hong Kong’s medical system to tackle the disease.

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