Coronavirus: cross-border commuters reeling as HK quarantine plan set to cut off access to jobs, medical care

08-Feb-2020 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 6:02 AM Print This Post

Cross-border commuters about to have their lives upended by a new 14-day quarantine rule rushed back to Hong Kong on Thursday, with some saying they would be left without access to needed medicine or their jobs when the measure takes effect on Saturday.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor announced on Wednesday that anyone travelling to the city from the mainland would be required to undergo the quarantine as part of stepped-up tactics to contain the coronavirus outbreak.

The news was particularly troubling to Hongkonger Kong Chin, a 59-year-old bus driver and cross-border commuter who lives in Shenzhen with his wife and two children. He said the quarantine arrangement could cost him his job, as he had no place to stay in Hong Kong.

Kong, who drives route 59A between Tuen Mun and Kwai Fong for KMB, returned to Hong Kong on Thursday to talk to his supervisor about his future work arrangement, but decided to take three weeks’ annual leave as he could not secure accommodation in the city.

“I told them I’ll take annual leave. If it is used up, I’ll take unpaid leave,” he said. “I don’t know how long this [arrangement] will last … Maybe it will last until the government lifts [the quarantine requirement].”

Efforts to find a room in Pentahotel in Tuen Mun, the closest district to the Shenzhen Bay port, were to no avail, he said, after staff told him the hotel was fully booked.

But Kong suspected he was not being told the truth. “They feared I would bring along the infectious disease with me in the hotel. That would have a negative impact on them,” he said.

“There’s nothing I can do. I have nowhere to hide in Hong Kong.”

A front-office manager at the hotel told the Post they had turned down a number of recent booking requests, as staffing issues and the “critical” situation in Hong Kong meant the hotel was not using all its available rooms.

KMB, meanwhile, said the company would maintain close contact with staff and stay in line with the government’s infection control measures.

Those measures, however, were confusing and lacked real planning, Kong said.

Even if I stayed in the quarantine camp for 14 days, what would Hong Kong’s situation be? No one … dares to answer that question … I feel that everyone is talking nonsense

Kong Chin, a regular cross-border commuter

“Even if I stayed in the quarantine camp for 14 days, what would Hong Kong’s situation be?” he asked. “No one, including the chief executive, dares to answer that question … I feel that everyone is talking nonsense.”

For Hongkonger Winston Chan, who now resides in Shenzhen, the quarantine could have direct consequences for his health.

Doubtful of the quality of service on the mainland side, the 68-year-old retiree has been getting regular medical check-ups at Hong Kong’s North District Hospital for his heart disease, diabetes and hypertension. He said the new quarantine policy had forced him to cancel two appointments.

A former valuer at Hang Seng Bank, Chan said his current stock of prescription medication would run out in early March, but he had no plans to come back to Hong Kong to replenish his supply.

“There’s no plan B. The only thing I can do now is to try to stop taking the medication and see how things turn out,” he said.

Tina, a mainlander who lives in Hong Kong and works as a clerk for a Shenzen property development company, rushed back from the mainland on Thursday with her nine-year-old daughter. The two, who had been travelling for the Lunar New Year holiday, returned after finding out the new quarantine measure was about to take effect.

A frequent traveller between the two cities, Tina commuted to work in Shenzhen from her home in Yuen Long, via the Lok Ma Chau border point, before its closure.

She said while the mandatory quarantine for all mainland visitors was understandable, a complete border shutdown was unnecessary to combat the deadly virus.

“The government has already suspended individual travel visas, so people who have no need to travel will not come here. But [the quarantine] will be very inconvenient to many commuters,” she said.

Canadian tutor Felicia Chapman-Omgba, 42, who lives and works in Shenzhen, was on her way back to mainland China on Thursday, after rushing to Hong Kong to pay a quick visit to her friends.

She said many of her expatriate friends had bad information about the new quarantine rules, mistakenly believing that travellers to Hong Kong from anywhere not just across the mainland border were being quarantined.


Category: Hong Kong

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