Striking Hong Kong Health Workers Demand Shutdown of Border with China

Saturday, February 8, 2020
By Paul Martin

7 Feb 2020

Striking hospital workers in Hong Kong demanded a complete shutdown of the city’s border with China on Friday in response to the coronavirus, entering the offices of the Hospital Authority to demand an immediate meeting with health authorities.

Hundreds of striking hospital employees swarmed the lobby of the Health Authority headquarters on Friday morning to demand an open meeting with chief executive Tony Ko. Despite the building’s lifts being placed on lockdown so executives would not face confrontation, many workers managed to reach the senior management offices on the fourth and fifth floors.

As well as a complete shutdown of the border with China, health workers are also demanding more protective gear for frontline staff to prevent possible contagion of the coronavirus, where there have already been 26 reported cases. On Tuesday, the region’s health authorities confirmed the first death as a result of the virus, sparking alarm among locals over a possibility of a mass outbreak.

This week, Hong Kong’s Beijing-controlled Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced a range of measures to protect Hong Kongers from the virus, closing all but three border control points and forcing all travelers from the Chinese mainland into a 14-day quarantine.

“Even if they are entering from other places, if they have visited the mainland over the past 14 days, mandatory quarantine will still be applicable upon their arrival,” Lam’s office said in a statement.

“The government has confirmed with the major suppliers that the supply of food products remains normal and there is no shortage of food,” they continued. “There are sufficient stocks of staple foods including rice and pastas. There is no need for the public to worry.”

Health workers have denounced such measures as insufficient. “These measures by the Hong Kong government won’t work, because it is not a complete shutdown of the border,” Yu told the media. “Wuhan pneumonia carrier[s] may still be able to come into Hong Kong.”

The strike began on Monday and was intended to end Friday, although Hospital Authority Employees Alliance chair Winnie Yu Wai-ming warned that this could be extended further if 6,000 of their 20,000 members voted to continue into next week. This proposal ultimately fell short by 2,000 votes, although Yu insisted that it “doesn’t mean we are giving up.”

Civic Party lawmaker Kwok Ka-ki, who is also a trained medical doctor, has backed the union’s calls for the shutdown of the border, according to Radio Free Asia.

“She [Lam] insists on not shutting down the border even though she knows very well she is wrong about this,” Kwok said. “The measures will only take effect from Feb. 8, but what about tomorrow and the next day?”

“People in the mainland [China] are going to move heaven and earth to get to Hong Kong in the next couple of days, and they’ll disperse across Hong Kong,” she continued. “How many Hong Kong will people have to die or bury their loved ones before the chief executive gives way?”

Last week, the World Health Organization classified the outbreak as an international health emergency. As of Friday afternoon, there were approximately 31,500 cases confirmed worldwide, over 99.9 percent of which are on the Chinese mainland. At least 638 people have died, while a further 1,568 have made a full recovery.

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