Those who are stranded in Hubei urged the government to bring them back to Hong Kong. Photo: Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions

The Hong Kong government said it will send four flights to Wuhan in Hubei province on Wednesday and Thursday – the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak – to bring back 533 residents. 

The move, which has been proposed by lawmakers from different political parties since late January, was finalized after Hong Kong saw a slowdown in the growth of the number of infections in the past one week.

Prior to this, most countries, including the United States, Canada and Australia, the Philippines and Indonesia, had sent flights to bring back their people in early February. 

“We do not feel that we have delayed the return of Hong Kong people stranded in Hubei. Even up to this point, Hubei province, particularly the city of Wuhan, is still under a very challenging situation in terms of the infection and cases confirmed,” Carrie Lam, the Chief Executive of Hong Kong, said in a media briefing before the weekly Executive Council meeting on Tuesday. 

“There are still very clear restrictions on exit arrangements as well as transport arrangements leaving Hubei province,” she said.

Between January 23 and 25, the Hubei provincial government announced a shutdown of the traffic system in all its cities, including Wuhan, to stop the coronavirus from spreading to other parts of China. Since then, more than 3,000 Hong Kong residents have been stranded in Hubei. 

Following local media reports about the infected Hong Kong people in Hubei, the Hong Kong government said on February 12 that 10 Hong Kong people from three families had been infected with the virus. It was slammed by lawmakers for trying to hide the truth from the public. 

Kwok Ka-ki, a Civic Party lawmaker, called on the government to bring back the Hong Kong people from Hubei immediately. A local newspaper even vowed to sponsor flights to Hubei. On February 23, a 77-year-old Hong Kong man died of the coronavirus in Wuhan. On February 24, the government said it would bring the Hong Kong residents back from Hubei.

Mainland Affairs Secretary Patrick Nip and Immigration Director Erick Tsang will lead a delegation of more than 40 staff to assist with the operation, which will bring back 440 Hong Kong people from Wuhan and 93 others from 10 cities in Hubei province.

Nip said they are people with an urgent need to come back to Hong Kong, including 14 pregnant women, 11 secondary school students who are going to take the upcoming Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education exams, and some who need medical treatment, such as cancer patients.

The residents are required to undergo temperature checks four times during the process to make sure they don’t have any symptoms of infection before they can board the charter flights. After they arrive in Hong Kong, they will be sent directly to a newly-built public housing estate in Fo Tan for a 14-day quarantine period.

Jolly Villa at 8 Tai Hang Road. Photo: Google Maps

As of Monday evening, a total of 101 infected cases were recorded in Hong Kong. The latest cases involved a 63-year-old man, the elder brother of a 60-year-old woman, who was the 85th infected person in the city last Tuesday. The man, with underlying illness, lived at Jolly Villa at 8 Tai Hang Road.

The woman, who lived at Block 4, Swiss Towers, at 113 Tai Hang Road, Tai Hang, was said to be a wealthy businesswoman and a member of the Hong Kong Jockey Club.

In the two weeks before she was admitted to hospital, she visited many places. She could have infected her elder brother when she attended his daughter’s wedding banquet at the JW Marriott Hotel Hong Kong on February 22.

Read: Six infected with virus in HK Buddhist temple

The woman’s 29-year-old Filipino domestic worker was identified as the 89th infected person in Hong Kong on February 26. 

Separately, a Filipino domestic worker named Nhey was cheated by her compatriots when, on behalf of her employer called Ann, she ordered 300 boxes of masks over the internet from the Philippines.

After she paid a deposit of HK$7,900 (US$1,105) through Alipay, the sellers blocked her account and fled, the Apple Daily reported on Monday. The victims, accompanied by District Councillor Chun Tak-shing, reported the case to police.

Fusion supermarket in Tiu Keng Leng. Photo: Asia Times

On Saturday, a 46-year-old woman was identified as the 95th infected person in Hong Kong after her 70-year-old mother-in-law was infected with the virus at Fook Wai Ching She, a Buddhist temple in North Point. She worked as a cashier at a Fusion supermarket in Tiu Keng Leng, which has been closed for 14 days from Saturday. 

On Monday, Hong Kong civil servants returned to their offices after weeks of a work-from-home arrangement, which was implemented to prevent larger outbreaks of the coronavirus in the city.

Starting last week, some departments arranged for employees to work on alternative days to minimize social contact. Some worked in offices on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, while others worked on Tuesdays and Thursdays. They swapped their shifts this week. 

Some private companies also asked their staff to work in offices this week. The moves resulted in a 20-30% growth in the number of train passengers on Monday, RTHK reported, citing the observations of an MTR employee. The situation has not returned to normal during peak hours as many are still working from home, while students will stay home until the Easter holidays. 

Civil servants are required to work in offices from this week. Photo: RTHK
More people have been taking the MTR this week. Photo: RTHK

Read: HK to give cash to residents amid epidemic