HK government ‘considering’ new measures to further cut cross-border travel, source says, as lawmakers call for quarantine of all returning locals

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

The Hong Kong government is “considering” new measures to further cut cross-border travel with mainland China, such as closing more checkpoints and reducing the opening hours of crossings, according to a source.

“We are discussing legislation that can be invoked to cut cross-border flow of people, particularly to reduce the number of Hongkongers crossing the border,” the government source said.

“There would be bigger risk of cross-infection among travellers if they gather at the few remaining checkpoints in the event of further closures. This is among technical issues to be considered before drawing a conclusion.”

The news emerged on Monday as the city’s largest pro-Beijing party, the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB) called for all Hongkongers returning from the mainland to be put under home surveillance for two weeks, piling more pressure on the embattled government.

DAB lawmakers also urged authorities to list surgical masks and alcohol gels as reserved commodities, to control sales and prices of such items.

“The government must take decisive and strict measures… because medical experts have warned that the coming two to three weeks will be critical in determining whether a community outbreak will take place in Hong Kong,” party chairwoman Starry Lee Wai-king said.

The coming two to three weeks will be critical in determining whether a community outbreak will take place in Hong Kong

Starry Lee, DAB chairwoman

On Monday, the number of people infected by the coronavirus, thought to have originated from the mainland Chinese city of Wuhan, rose to more than 17,300 around the world. More than 17,200 of those cases are in mainland China, while Hong Kong recorded its 15th case of infection on Sunday night.

The Hong Kong government is set to hold a press conference on quarantine arrangements on Monday afternoon.

Wuhan virusa visual explainer

Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor on Friday rejected public calls for a total shutdown of the city’s borders to stem the spread of the disease, claiming it would be discriminatory. Last Thursday, authorities closed six of 15 border control points, suspending transport services at such nodes.

The government source on Monday pointed out that the number of mainlanders entering Hong Kong had gradually dropped after the imposed measures, with the main concern now on the larger volume of returning locals.

“About 13,300 mainlanders entered Hong Kong on Saturday, and the number dropped to about 11,000 on Sunday,” the source said, comparing this against the more than 110,000 Hongkongers who returned on Saturday.

Tam Yiu-chung, Hong Kong’s sole representative on the National People’s Congress Standing Committee, China’s top legislative body, said he backed the idea of slashing the cross-border flow of people, particularly on restricting the number of incoming mainland travellers.

But he disagreed on a total border shutdown, insisting it was impractical.

“How can we shut down our border completely as more than 100,000 Hong Kong people work and study there?” he said. “But there is room for discussion on measures to cut the number of travellers crossing the border.”

The government source said the administration did not rule out the possibility of asking Beijing to invalidate all earlier approved visas granted to individual mainland tourists, if the situation worsened.

“But even under such a decision, it can’t be implemented overnight because a lot of administrative work is required, such as informing visa holders,” the source said.

City leader Lam earlier also promised to ramp up immigration restrictions by placing anyone returning from stricken Hubei province under quarantine, and appealed to Hong Kong residents returning from other places on the mainland to stay home for 14 days upon their return.

Currently, Hubei residents are banned from entering Hong Kong, but DAB vice-chair Gary Chan Hak-kan suggested the measures were not strong enough.

“We must ban anyone, except local residents, from entering Hong Kong from the mainland, unless they have certificates to prove that they are healthy,” he said.

“Hong Kong residents must be put under home surveillance and medical checks for 14 days. If we have enough [facilities], we should consider more measures, such as giving them electronic wristbands.”

Holden Chow Ho-ding, another vice-chair of the party, said products such as masks and alcohol gels should be listed under the Reserved Commodities Ordinance.

“The government can then limit sales and prices, as well as control the supply of these products,” he said, noting that since last week, local residents had been scrambling to buy such items, which were sold out in most shops.

DAB lawmaker Wilson Or Chong-shing noted the controversy over quarantine facilities near residential zones. He proposed that the government should consider building new camps on a site initially marked for Hong Kong Disneyland Resort’s expansion on Lantau Island, or even rent cruise ships.


Category: Hong Kong

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