Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor announced on Tuesday a suspension of high-speed rail and ferry links with mainland China as part of efforts to limit the spread of a new coronavirus.
High-Speed Rail and Intercity Through Train services will be suspended from midnight on Thursday, Lam said at a news conference following an emergency meeting with her key ministers and experts.
Also to be suspended are cross-border ferries at Tsim Sha Tsui and Tuen Mun, while border checkpoints at Sha Tau Kok and Man Kam To will be closed to all passenger traffic, RTHK reported.
However, drivers carrying goods will be allowed to cross, and other major border control points such as Lowu and Lok Ma Chau will remain open, the public broadcaster said.
Lam also said the number of flights to the mainland will be halved and travel permits for mainlanders to the city under the individual visit scheme suspended.
Beijing had earlier suspended all tour groups and the sale of flight and hotel packages for mainlanders traveling overseas.
“I thank the central government for supporting our work in [suspending cross-border transport] and the relevant mainland ministries and commissions for cooperating with us,” said Lam, who was wearing a green mask.
The chief executive, however, defended her decision not to close the entire border over the coronavirus threat, as demanded by some legislators, saying such a move would prevent the return home of Hong Kong people, some of whom commute daily.
“There are a large number of Hong Kong residents who are now travelling in the mainland and overseas and they need to come back. So, I don’t think it is very meaningful to talk about a complete closure of the boundary control points,” she said.
A union of hospital workers, the Hospital Authority Employees Alliance, earlier gave the government until Tuesday to heed its demands, which include barring entry from mainland China, or it would go on strike.
“With the full support of the central government, they have agreed in principle to cease issuing the Individual Visit Scheme permits. So that will take away 50 percent of the usual mainland visitors coming to Hong Kong, together with the 20-plus percentage points attributed to group tours from the mainland,” Lam said.
“Another measure is really to reduce or to consolidate the number of boundary control points. In one go, we are ceasing the service for passengers in six control points. That’s quite a drastic measure.”
Lam also urged Hong Kong residents to return from the mainland as soon as possible and quarantine themselves at home for 14 days.
More than 100 people have died from the flu-like virus, which emerged last month in Wuhan, the capital of central China’s Hubei province. The number of confirmed cases was at 4,515 by Monday, up from 2,835 the previous day, health authorities said.
With Hong Kong financial markets set to reopen on Wednesday after the Lunar New Year holiday, Lam was flanked at the news conference by Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan Siu-chee and Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Edward Yau Tang-wah, both also wearing masks.
Chan said the city so far had eight confirmed infections, while 100 patients were in quarantine.
Public facilities to close
A number of public facilities will be temporarily closed from Wednesday until further notice as part of the government measures to fight the virus outbreak.
The Leisure & Cultural Services Department will temporarily close numerous cultural and leisure facilities and cancel recreational, sports and cultural programmes held at these venues.
Affected land sports and aquatic facilities include all sports centres, sports grounds, grass pitches, artificial turf soccer pitches, tennis courts, squash courts, bowling greens, golf facilities, public swimming pools, beaches, water sports centers and holiday camps.
All museums, performance venues and public libraries will also be closed.
The coronavirus presents a perfect storm for embattled Lam, who is grappling with more than seven months of anti-government protests that have seen more than 7,000 people arrested.
The judiciary announced on Tuesday that all court hearings scheduled from Wednesday to Feb. 2 would be adjourned, heaping more pressure on the already stretched judicial system.
It is still too early to know what the death rate of coronavirus will be, since there are likely to be many cases of milder disease going undetected.
Like other respiratory infections, it spreads between people in droplets from coughs and sneezes.
The coronavirus has rattled global markets and unnerved residents of Hong Kong, still haunted by memories of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) that killed nearly 300 people in the city in 2003. With Reuters
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