All arrivals from mainland to be quarantined for 14 days: govt

February 06, 2020 11:59
Carrie Lam, at a news conference on Wednesday, announces a mandatory 14-day quarantine requirement on all travelers from mainland China as part of efforts to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus. Photo: HKEJ

The Hong Kong government announced on Wednesday that it will impose a 14-day mandatory quarantine on all people entering the city from China in a bid to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, while continuing to resist calls for full closure of the border with the mainland.

The new quarantine measure, which will take effect from Saturday, covers all travelers from mainland China, including Hong Kong residents, mainland residents and other visitors.

The Chief Executive-in-Council will invoke the power under the Prevention and Control of Disease Ordinance to put in place the new rule.

However, the government was yet to unveil details on implementation of the measure, saying that the legal framework is pending. A further announcement could come on Thursday or Friday.

Asked questions such as how many people arriving in Hong Kong are expected to be isolated and how they would be isolated after the implementation of the mandatory quarantine, Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan Siu-chee said the concrete arrangements will be unveiled later as work on the related legal framework is underway.

The quarantine measure came as the Centre for Health Protection (CHP) under the Department of Health said there were three more confirmed cases of novel coronavirus infection in Hong Kong as of Wednesday, bringing the total to 21 so far in the city.

The decision took into consideration the advice of the four members of an expert advisory group under the Steering Committee cum Command Centre, a government spokesman said.

It is expected that the measure will further reduce cross-boundary flow of people between Hong Kong and the mainland, thus reducing the risk of transmission and spread of the disease in the community, the spokesman added.

Announcing the new quarantine measure in a press conference on Wednesday afternoon, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said the measure can't be implemented right away because the government needs time to sort out the relevant legislation, and also because cross-border commuters need to have advance notice of the move.

On Monday, the government announced suspension of passenger clearance services at all of its border crossings with the mainland except the Shenzhen Bay and the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge control points and the airport.

The number of passenger trips arriving via Shenzhen Bay and the mega-bridge dropped 64 percent from a day earlier and that via the airport was down 21 percent.

Lam told media that she expects the numbers to fall further after the new quarantine measure comes into effect, but she admitted that the number of people that will have to receive the mandatory quarantine cannot be estimated precisely.

The government also on Wednesday announced the suspension of immigration services at the Kai Tak Cruise Terminal and the Ocean Terminal with immediate effect.

The next 14 days will be critical for Hong Kong to prevent the novel coronavirus from spreading within communities as newly confirmed cases of infection on Tuesday suggested local transmission may have occurred, the chief executive said.

In a post on its Facebook page on Wednesday night, the government said people in some industries that require regular cross-border crossings will be exempted from being quarantined. The statement did not go into details.

Commenting on the new quarantine measure, Democratic Party lawmaker James To Kun-sun pointed out that since there is a window period of two days, it is possible to see a rush of border crossings before the measure takes effect.

People Power's lawmaker Raymond Chan Chi-chuen said he is worried that the measure would only lure more mainlanders to come over and get isolated so as to receive medical treatment, which will place an extra burden on Hong Kong’s healthcare system.

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