No concrete plan yet to evacuate HK residents in Hubei: govt

February 20, 2020 14:18
Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung said the evacuation of Hong Kong residents stuck in Hubei will have to be done in batches to avoid cross-infection among them and ensure there are enough quarantine facilities to accommodate them. Photo: HKEJ

While the government has started evacuating hundreds of Hong Kong passengers on the Diamond Princess cruise ship docked in Yokohama, Japan, thousands of Hong Kong citizens stranded in central China's Hubei province, the epicenter of the deadly novel coronavirus outbreak, are still waiting for help from the administration to get them out of there.

However, the government has yet to come up with a concrete evacuation plan for them, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.

“The HKSAR government is very concerned about the situation of Hong Kong people in Hubei province and maintains close communication with them through the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office in Wuhan (WHETO),” Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung told legislators on Wednesday. 

“WHETO has been actively following up on their cases and liaising with relevant local authorities to provide every appropriate and practicable assistance.”

The Legislative Council resumed sessions on Wednesday after being suspended for about two weeks.

Lawmakers asked Cheung and the 11 bureau chiefs who came with him about how the government is dealing with the current epidemic, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.

In particular, Dr. Kwok Ka-ki of the Civic Party asked Cheung if Hong Kong authorities are arranging to bring home the Hongkongers stranded in Hubei as soon as possible.

Cheung said relevant government departments have been assessing the situation and making plans for the return of Hong Kong residents in the virus-stricken province, including those in the capital Wuhan.

The government has been “assessing in a thorough and prudent manner the risk on public health and the practicality of the operation”, Cheung said.

However, he said, the administration must “not only avoid cross-infection among the returnees on their way back to Hong Kong, but also consider the quarantine arrangements for the returnees upon their arrival in Hong Kong", including "the need to have sufficient quarantine facilities”.

“Given that the number of Hong Kong people in Hubei province is not small and in view of the current situation, the HKSAR government will need to arrange their return to Hong Kong in batches,” Cheung said.

The chief secretary did not give a concrete timetable for bringing back those stranded in Hubei.

Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Patrick Nip Tak-kuen told the lawmakers that the authorities have been devising plans regarding the matter, adding that such plans could be implemented immediately when the time is ripe.

In the same meeting, Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung Yun-hung said that for students stranded in Hubei who are scheduled to take this year’s Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education (HKDSE) exams, his bureau will devise ways to coordinate with relevant parties so they won’t be left out.

Lawmaker Ip Kin-yuen, who represents the education sector, said there are no less than seven students among the Hong Kong people stranded in Hubei, and at least one of them is an HKDSE exam candidate. He reckons there are many more.

During the meeting, both pan-democratic and pro-establishment lawmakers slammed the government for slow action in the handling of the outbreak and belated awareness of the actual situation.

Democratic Party lawmaker Roy Kwong Chun-yu asked Cheung whether he would apologize on behalf of the administration of Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor and whether any senior officials need to be held accountable and should step down.

Cheung stressed that the entire leadership of the government has been dedicated in fighting the epidemic. He also appealed to members of the public to be tolerant and understanding of the government amid the crisis.

The Centre for Health Protection (CHP) of the Department of Health on Wednesday said that as of 8 p.m. on Wednesday, the CHP is investigating three new cases of Covid-19, taking to 65 the number of confirmed cases in the city.

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