Thousands of Hong Kong medical workers look set to continue their strike at public hospitals on Thursday, saying that recent quarantine measures announced by the city's government weren't enough to protect the city from the coronavirus epidemic.
Hong Kong's leader Carrie Lam announced on Wednesday that all new arrivals from mainland China, including Hong Kong residents, would be required to undergo a 14-day quarantine to rule out infection with the coronavirus that has paralyzed central China since the beginning of the year.
But Winnie Yu, head of the Hospital Authority Employees Alliance, said the move wasn't good enough.
"These measures by the Hong Kong government won't work, because it is not a complete shutdown of the border," Yu told journalists. "Wuhan pneumonia carrier[s] may still be able to come into Hong Kong."
Chief executive Lam said she had brought in subsidiary legislation by executive decree requiring anyone arriving in Hong Kong from mainland China, regardless of their nationality, to be subject to mandatory quarantine for 14 days.
"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," the government said in a statement.
However, the measures won't come into effect until midnight on Thursday, which the healthcare workers said would likely prompt a surge in arrivals ahead of the new restrictions.
"The government has confirmed with the major suppliers that the supply of food products remains normal and there is no shortage of food," the government said. "There are sufficient stocks of staple foods including rice and pastas. There is no need for the public to worry."
Schools remain suspended, civil servants are working from home where possible and non-essential government services have shut down, however.
"The spokesman appeals strongly to members of the public to stay at home as much as possible, refrain from going to crowded places and pay attention to personal hygiene," the statement said, calling on employees to allow flexible working arrangements during the epidemic.
It pledged a H.K.$10 billion fund to assist businesses affected by the curbs.
'She is wrong about this'
Civic Party lawmaker Kwok Ka-ki, who is also a medical doctor, called for a total shutdown of the border.
"She 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 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," he said.
"How many Hong Kong will people have to die or bury their loved ones before the chief executive gives way?"
A number of other labor unions said on Wednesday that they could join the strike to get Lam to shut the border.
Carol Ng, chairwoman of the Confederation of Trade Unions, said a strike by its members was "really imminent."
"This is an issue that affects the whole of society – and the quickest thing the government can do to address everyone's concerns is to temporarily close the borders," Ng told government broadcaster RTHK.
She said other unions are starting to hold meetings about whether to take industrial action in support of the medical workers.
Reported by Li Zhizhi, Jia Ao and Tam Siu-yin for RFA's Mandarin and Cantonese Services. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.