HONG KONG — Hong Kong’s authorities mentioned Monday that it might shut extra border checkpoints, as some medical employees went on strike to demand an entire ban on entries from mainland China to restrict the outbreak of the brand new coronavirus.
Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s high official, has confronted rising calls from hospital workers, the enterprise group and even some pro-government lawmakers to additional tighten border controls with mainland China, the place the virus emerged in December.
Greater than 2,500 medical employees in Hong Kong — principally these thought of to be nonemergency personnel — went on strike Monday morning to stress the authorities to bar entries from mainland China. The variety of strikers was anticipated to develop if the federal government didn’t relent.
The medical employees, who’re members of a newly shaped union, mentioned they had been fearful that hospitals can be overwhelmed by a surge of coronavirus instances as mainland Chinese language search to make use of Hong Kong’s well being care system.
The more and more fraught debate over Hong Kong’s border displays its uncommon standing inside China. Because it returned from British management 23 years in the past, Hong Kong has been given a level of autonomy, together with its personal border controls, a mannequin generally known as “one nation, two methods.”
But when the town doesn’t additional tighten its border, the placing medical employees argue, it dangers an outbreak corresponding to that within the mainland. Already, some international locations have included Hong Kong with the remainder of China in just lately introduced restrictions on arrivals, although the town has simply 15 of the greater than 17,000 confirmed instances nationwide.
Mrs. Lam introduced some measures final week to chop arrivals from mainland China, together with the closure of a number of border checkpoints, halting cross-border trains and reducing inbound flights. The federal government additionally mentioned it might not enable entry by residents of Hubei Province, the middle of the outbreak, or individuals who acknowledged that that they had traveled there just lately.
Arrivals by mainland residents dropped by 62 p.c since these restrictions had been put in place, she mentioned, and would fall additional with the newly introduced closures.
However she has resisted an entire prohibition on mainland arrivals, calling such a transfer “a discriminatory strategy” and never in keeping with suggestions from the World Well being Group.
Mrs. Lam mentioned the closure of 4 extra border factors at midnight Monday was in response to recommendation from consultants and never the strike.
“If anybody thinks that excessive means may power the hand of the Hong Kong S.A.R. authorities and the Hospital Authority, threatening us into doing unreasonable issues that might hurt the general public, they’re flawed,” she mentioned.
She additionally criticized the placing hospital employees. “To make use of excessive means in such a delicate time would inevitably have an effect on the rights of the affected person and add immensely to the burdens of the already beleaguered Hospital Authority leaders,” Mrs. Lam mentioned.
Members of the newly shaped Hospital Authority Staff Alliance rallied exterior of public hospitals on Monday morning.
The union has about 18,000 members, together with 9,000 who’ve signed pledges to strike. The Hospital Authority of Hong Kong has about 80,000 workers in whole.
Signaling issues amongst enterprise executives, greater than half of American enterprise leaders questioned mentioned they needed to see the Hong Kong authorities shut down the border with mainland China, in keeping with a survey of 156 executives by the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong.
A handful of explosive gadgets have additionally been positioned across the metropolis in latest days, adopted by nameless threats on-line of extra bombs if the mainland border was not fully sealed. On Sunday, two gadgets had been present in a prepare on the border, the police mentioned. One ignited, however no accidents had been reported.
To minimize the results of the strike, some personal sector docs have mentioned they might volunteer to assist in hospitals. And different unions, together with the Hong Kong Public Nurses Affiliation and the Hong Kong Medical and Well being Care Workers Basic Union, condemned the strike and urged their members to remain on the job.
The preliminary instances in Hong Kong had been all present in individuals who returned from the mainland. However the newest appeared to have been transferred between a 39-year-old man who returned from a visit to Wuhan on Jan. 23 and his 72-year-old mom.
Some in Hong Kong’s enterprise group have additionally voiced issues that if Hong Kong doesn’t additional tighten its border, will probably be lumped in with mainland China by international locations barring entry.
Vietnam initially took that step on Saturday, when it included Hong Kong in a ban on most flights from China and Taiwan. However hours later it relented, limiting the restrictions to mainland China.
The Philippines, the place the primary coronavirus dying exterior China was introduced on Sunday, went additional, barring non-Filipino arrivals from mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau.
Mrs. Lam’s reluctance to additional clamp down on entries from the mainland is seen by her critics as an indication of her prioritizing the expectations of the central authorities over the Hong Kong public.
“Carrie Lam as soon as once more appears to be adopting one nation over two methods,” mentioned David Webb, an impartial investor in Hong Kong.
International locations together with america, Australia and Singapore have barred entry by foreigners who’ve just lately been to mainland China. If case numbers enhance in Hong Kong, the town may discover itself lumped in with the restrictions on folks touring from the mainland, Mr. Webb mentioned.
“Residents are usually not allowed to go to libraries, to concert events, to amusement parks,” he mentioned. “Town is on an unprecedented degree of lockdown. On the identical time, we’re permitting potential instances to stroll throughout the border into Hong Kong. That’s inconsistent. If all people ought to make each effort, then we must always shut down the border besides to important site visitors.”
Alexandra Stevenson contributed reporting.