Hong Kong is set to roll out more measures for residents crossing the border to mainland China, an adviser to the government has said amid calls for drastic two-way control procedures to be put in place to stem the coronavirus outbreak.
Executive councillor Dr Lam Ching-choi, speaking on a radio programme on Sunday, agreed that the government had to catch up with the situation and roll out more prevention measures. His comments come against the backdrop of criticism that what authorities had done so far was too little, too late.
With an impending strike by various groups in the medical sector on Monday to press the government into full border closure with the mainland, Lam said he was more worried about the volume of Hongkongers crossing the border.
“If we do not reduce the number of those going north and carrying the virus back with them when they return, the risks of a local outbreak will be high,” he said, citing figures indicating some 40,000 Hongkongers had entered Shenzhen on Friday, with 70,000 returning from across the border.
Comparatively, the numbers for mainlanders were around 9,000 and 13,000 respectively on the same day.
“Unless absolutely necessary, Hongkongers should not enter the mainland,” he said. “Hongkongers have to be prepared that more measures would be rolled out in the short term.”
After the programme, Lam doubled down on his warning, urging Hongkongers to avoid travelling to the mainland as they risked “difficulties” when returning. He added that tighter measures, including the shortening of operating times at various ports, limited transport facilities and even legislation to restrict cross-border traffic could come.
“There are many measures for us, such as closing electronic channels for Hongkongers so they have to meet officers and explain their reasons for entering the mainland,” Lam told the Post in an interview. “When they return, a hotline can be set up for them to report their health status.”
He said the main focus would be on sending a signal to Hongkongers not to go to the mainland unless absolutely necessary.
Regarding control measures for mainland travellers, Lam said he believed there was more room for reducing the number of individual travellers with approved visas, but that this was in the hands of the central government.
Speaking on the same programme, infectious diseases expert Professor Yuen Kwok-yung warned that if a current case in Hong Kong was proved to be a local transmission, it would be a very dangerous sign for the city.
“It is necessary to take drastic and decisive measures at this stage, with priority going to stopping the source [of the virus],” Yuen said. “We must consider minimising the flow of people at the border. Regardless of their ethnicity, nationality, and personal capacity, people should not enter or exit the border without a valid reason.”
Last Thursday, Hong Kong slashed cross-border travel through measures such as closing six of 15 border control points, suspending transport services at such nodes and banning visitors from Hubei, the province where outbreak epicentre Wuhan city is located.
But critics are calling for a complete closure of borders with the mainland.
As of Sunday morning, the number of infections in mainland China has soared to more than 14,000, with the death toll beyond 300. Hong Kong confirmed its 14th case on Saturday evening.
The World Health Organisation has declared a global health emergency.
This article Hong Kong set to roll out more measures for residents going to mainland China, government adviser says, warning public not to cross border unless absolutely necessary first appeared on South China Morning Post