Evacuation plan for Hongkongers stuck in Hubei but no timetable

February 25, 2020 13:12
Security Secretary John Lee (L), Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Secretary Patrick Nip (middle) and Health Secretary Sophia Chan (R) appear before the media to discuss an evacuation plan for Hongkongers stuck in China’s virus-hit Hubei province. Photo

The government on Monday unveiled plans to evacuate the more than 2,700 Hongkongers stuck in central China's Hubei province, the epicenter of the deadly novel coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak, after receiving several requests for assistance from the stranded citizens.

The announcement, which provided no set timetable, came as some pro-democracy lawmakers slammed the government for procrastinating on the matter and held it accountable for the death of the Hong Kong man last week in Wuhan, capital of the Hubei province.

Speaking at a press conference, Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Patrick Nip Tak-kuen said the government has been actively discussing with the relevant government departments and public health experts to draw up a feasible and safe plan to bring back the Hong Kong people stranded in Hubei, especially those having special needs.

After liaising with the relevant mainland authorities, the government has decided that chartered flights will be arranged for the purpose with the aim to bring back the stranded people in batches as soon as possible, according to Nip.

Details of the arrangements, including how many flights and their dates, are yet to be determined.

"This is a joint operation by the Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau, the Security Bureau, the Food and Health Bureau and relevant departments such as the Immigration Department, the Department of Health and the Hospital Authority. The Director of Immigration will also take part in the operation. We need to discuss and finalize the detailed arrangements with the Hubei Provincial Government before the operation can be implemented," Nip said.

Data from the government show the number of Hongkongers in Hubei confirmed to have contracted the Covid-19 increased to 11 as of Monday.

Nip told media that the first batch of chartered flights will assist about 450 Hong Kong residents stranded in Wuhan as well as others in other parts of Hubei province who may have more urgent needs, such as pregnant women, those who suffer from serious illness and are urgently in need of surgery or other medical treatments, and secondary school graduates who need to sit for the Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education Examination, to return home.

As for Hong Kong residents who are in other cities in Hubei, there will be arrangements made in stages to bring them back to Hong Kong, Nip said, noting that details of the operation have to be further discussed with the Hubei provincial government.

The official added that those who take the planned chartered flights must be Hong Kong ID card holders, and that health screening will be conducted for each passenger before boarding. Those who develop fever, abnormal vital signs, respiratory tract symptoms or other signs of infectious diseases will not be allowed on the planes.

The returning residents will have to stay in quarantine centers set up by the government for 14 days upon their arrival in Hong Kong.

Welcoming the government's planned move, pro-establishment lawmaker Priscilla Leung Mei-fun of the Business and Professionals Alliance for Hong Kong described the announcement as a sign of progress in interdepartmental cooperation.

Still, Leung urged the government to be careful in relation to the quarantine center arrangements and planning.

Criticizing the authorities for belated response, lawmaker Jeremy Tam Man-ho of the Civic Party said the administration will be held accountable if cross infection occurs on the chartered flights.

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