Coronavirus: HK sending rescue flights to collect 500 residents stranded in Hubei province

26-Mar-2020 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 6:02 AM Print This Post

About 500 Hongkongers stranded in the original epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak in mainland China will finally return home on Wednesday and Thursday, as they are now free to move within the province of Hubei.

Four government chartered flights were being arranged to evacuate those in several cities in the region.

A total of 285 people were registered to board the first two flights on Wednesday, which came on the same day the entire province, except the city of Wuhan, ended months of lockdown.

The news triggered a fresh wave of criticism over the time it took to bring the stranded residents home.

However, travel from Hubei to other provinces still requires a person to have a “green code”, proving he or she has been free of Covid-19 symptoms for the past two weeks, a designation not available to Hong Kong residents.

“After lockdown, a green code is still required to travel, which will first require a mainland citizen’s identity card to register,” said Patrick Nip Tak-kuen, the mainland affairs minister.

“Wuhan is still under lockdown until April, and there’s no flight out of Wuhan, so bringing those people stranded there for months home is necessary.”

Nip said among the 500 people registered for the four flights, about a quarter were aged 16 or below.

He also revealed that another 62-year-old Hongkonger who had contracted the disease died in Wuhan last Friday, taking the number to two. Another 12 infected had all been discharged, he added.

Unlike the first group of more than 460 evacuees who had to be quarantined in government camps, the group taking the chartered flights on Wednesday and Thursday will be allowed to remain in quarantine at home for 14 days.

They will also not be required to wear a wristband that is essential for those returning from overseas.

“They still have to follow the home quarantine orders and we will conduct spot checks,” Nip said.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s administration first floated the evacuation plan at the end of January, but the first four chartered flights did not leave for Wuhan until March amid public pressure to rescue 469 vulnerable citizens, including women in various stages of pregnancy.

The flights on Wednesday and Thursday will return citizens from Xianning, Xiaogan, Huangshi and some other cities via Wuhan Tianhe International Airport.

Xianning, Xiaogan and Huangshi are between a one and two-hour drive from Wuhan. For citizens stranded in cities farther away, it could take up to seven hours to travel to Wuhan, Nip said.

A Hong Kong businessperson in Hubei, who identified himself as Joe Chan, said he felt happy coming home on one of the chartered flights.

“I do feel the flights come a bit late. We have already been through the peak of the epidemic, where there is lack of medication or food,” Chan said. “After these few days, we even feel Hubei is starting to feel safer than Hong Kong.”

Chan, who was trapped in the city of Tianmen, about two hours from Wuhan, said the worst time was in late February when all districts were in complete lockdown and he only had simple congee and vegetables grown on local farms to eat.

Chuang Shuk-kwan, the head of the Centre for Health Protection’s communicable disease branch, said on Tuesday that oversees imported cases remained the current priority for surveillance, and described the outbreak in mainland China as being under control.


Category: Hong Kong

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