ExCo member defends govt blanket ban on visitors from S Korea

February 26, 2020 15:54
Dr. Lam Ching-choi,  a member of Hong Kong’s Executive Council, has insisted that the government acted appropriately in banning all foreign visitors from South Korea in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.  File photo: CNSA

The government did the right thing to impose entry restrictions on foreign visitors from South Korea, an Executive Council (ExCo) member said on Tuesday, arguing that the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak in Korea is similar to what has been seen in central China’s Hubei province.

Dr. Lam Ching-choi, a non-official member of the ExCo, an advisory body to Hong Kong's top leader, told a radio program that the ban on South Korean visitors and the earlier curbs on people from Hubei have shown that the government acted in a decisive manner to cut off sources of the virus.

Political factors can't be put into consideration when the time comes for preventive and control measures, added Lam, who is a pediatrician by profession.

The ExCo member’s comments came after authorities, starting from 6 am on Tuesday, banned entry to all non-Hong Kong residents traveling from South Korea and those who had been to the country in the past 14 days.

As there is a blanket ban on all foreign visitors from South Korea, questions have been raised as to why authorities didn't impose a similar ban on travelers from mainland China as a whole rather than bar only people from Hubei province, which is at the center of the virus outbreak.

Critics have accused the Hong Kong government of double standards and giving China preferential treatment.

ExCo member Lam argued that it is unfair to compare South Korea with mainland China as a whole, and that comparison should be made only with Hubei province, RTHK reported.

"The situation in Hubei is very similar to South Korea now," Lam said, noting that there are a lot of similarities, including how the epidemic evolved and the number of cases per population.

On Wednesday, the overall tally of coronavirus cases in South Korea topped 1,140, with the number being the highest outside China.

Asked by the radio program host as to why the government did not impose an entry ban on all visitors from the mainland, Lam explained that it was because the epidemic situation in all the cities and provinces other than Hubei was not out of control, and that their infection cases were rising in a relatively controlled fashion.

"All this epidemic control is basically out of the consideration of scientific data," RTHK quoted Lam as saying.

The ExCo member said he did not like to hear people describe the government’s handling of Covid-19 as “squeezing the toothpaste”, referring to criticism that the government takes only one action at a time.

Defending the government’s decision in another radio program, Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Patrick Nip Tak-kuen said the government has to impose an entry ban on South Korea because rapid community outbreaks have occurred in the country.

As for the mainland, Nip said the difference is that Hong Kong has closer ties with China than with other countries.

Despite that, the government had taken measures to reduce cross-border travelers, he said.

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