Lok Ma Chau MTR station. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The Hong Kong government announced Monday that it would close four more control points with the mainland from Tuesday due to the intensifying Wuhan epidemic.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam. Photo: RTHK

Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced at 5pm that the control points in Lo Wu, Lok Ma Chau, Huanggang and the Hong Kong Macau Ferry Terminal would be closed from Tuesday.

She said the shutdown of 10 of the 13 checkpoints, including the six closed last week, had been announced. She said people could still enter Hong Kong by air and through Shenzhen Bay and the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge.

Lam said the closure of the borders was unrelated to the strike held by members of Hong Kong’s medical staff from Monday. She said she saluted the medical staff who stayed on duty. She also promised to provide all medical staff with more protective gear.

About 3,000 medical staff in Hong Kong held a strike on Monday to call on the government to completely close the city’s border with the mainland in order to stop the spread of the Wuhan virus.

The first phase of the five-day strike involved 3,000 people, said Hospital Authority Employees Alliance chairman Yu Wai-Ming. The Hospital Authority and the government should immediately do what Hong Kong people have been demanding – close the city’s border with the mainland, Yu said.

A complete closure of Hong Kong’s border with the mainland was necessary and aimed to protect the health of all Hong Kong people, said Michael Felix Lau Hoi-man of the Hong Kong Allied Health Professionals and Nurse Association.

The Hospital Authority and the government had also ignored calls by medical staff in public hospitals to help them with enough protective gear and only focused on doing public relations stunts, Lau said.

The Hospital Authority Employees Alliance started organizing the strike after a 75-year-old Hong Kong man, who was identified as infected on January 30, was found to have lied to medical staff about his latest visit to Shunde in Guangdong province. He had been staying in the general ward in Princess Margaret Hospital for a week.

On Sunday, 98.7% of the 3,164 members of the alliance passed a motion to hold a five-day strike from Monday. Also, about 700 doctors, 6,000 nurses and 3,000 medical professionals signed a petition to support the strike. About 10.8% of all 6,432 doctors and 22% of all 27,252 nurses working under the Hospital Authority supported the strike.

As Lam refused to hold a dialogue, the alliance called off a meeting with the Hospital Authority on Sunday.

Lam said last Friday that a complete border shutdown with mainland China was discriminatory, not appropriate and not practical.

Hundreds of medical staff protest in the Hospital Authority building. Photo: RTHK
Strikers at the entrance of a public hospital. Photo: RTHK

On Monday morning, dozens of medical staff stood at the entrance of each of the public hospitals with signs explaining why they held a strike. Several hundred medical staff held a protest in the Hospital Authority building.

Lai Ching-lung, a Professor of Internal Medicine and Hepatology, Department of Medicine, The University of Hong Kong, visited the strikers in front of Queen Mary Hospital on Monday. Lai said he would not join the strike but fully understand their demands.

He said the government should close the border with the mainland as the total number of infected people in China kept rising.

A citizen surnamed Wu told RTHK that he had to spend an additional 15 to 20 minutes in his medical check-up in Tuen Man Hospital as there was less staff. However, he said he supported the strike, which could put pressure on the government to close the border.

Ann Chiang Lai-wan, a lawmaker with the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB), said medical staff should not join the strike as they were obligated to do their duties. She said she agreed that the Hospital Authority should provide more protective gear to medical staff.

Prior to the Hong Kong government’s Monday announcement, the Philippine government banned those from mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau from entering the country, while Filipinos who had recently visited the three places would be quarantined for 14 days.

It also said its people were not allowed to visit the three places, while the number of flights between the Philippines and the three destinations should be reduced.

The Philippine government’s decision came after a 44-year-old Wuhan man, who was infected with the virus, died in a hospital in Manila on Sunday, making him the first to die of the disease outside China. A Chinese woman, 38, who was with the man on a trip to the Philippines, was also infected but was recovering.

Betty Yung Ma Shan-yee, chairwoman of the Hong Kong Employers of Overseas Domestic Helpers Association, said she received calls from some Hong Kong employers that their domestic workers were stuck in Manila.

However, Yung said it was probably related to a lack of flights. She added that some Hong Kong employers had failed to buy transit flights for their domestic workers.

Teresa Liu Tsui-lan. Photo: RTHK

Teresa Liu Tsui-lan, chairwoman of the Association of Hong Kong Manpower Agencies, said the Hong Kong government should do more to prevent the city from becoming an epidemic zone. Liu said more than 40 Filipino domestic workers from her agency were stuck in the Philippines.

Law Chi-kwong, the Secretary for Labour and Welfare, said he was contacting the Philippine government for more information about the new rules.

As of Monday, a total of 15 people were identified as infected in Hong Kong, according to the Centre of Health Protection. The latest two cases involved the 72-year-old mother of a previously-infected man and an 80-year-old man who could have been infected on a cruise to Japan. These two cases hint at the rising risk of a community outbreak of the epidemic in Hong Kong.

Read: First local Wuhan virus infection identified in HK

Read: China virus deaths top 360, passing SARS mainland toll

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