Hong Kong Tracks Cruise Ship Passengers Amid Growing Calls to Shut Border

A Hong Kong supermarket's shelves are shown empty of supplies as fears of coronavirus infection spread, Feb. 6, 2020.

Thousands of medical workers remained on strike in Hong Kong on Thursday, as the authorities struggled to track down people who may have been infected with coronavirus aboard cruise ships plying the region's ports.

Medical staff in government hospitals who are members of the Hospital Authority Employees Alliance formed long lines outside hospitals to register for the strike.

The Alliance said it will continue to demand a full closure of Hong Kong's border with mainland China to prevent travelers from bringing the infection with them, as well as a safe working environment for staff with the right protective clothing and equipment.

It remained to be seen on Thursday whether there is now a full-fledged community outbreak of coronavirus, as opposed to cases among people who recently visited mainland China, especially the worst-hit city of Wuhan.

The city's health authorities are scrambling to track down thousands of Hongkongers who took cruises last month aboard the vessel World Dream, currently in quarantine at a dock in its home port of Hong Kong, as they may have been exposed to the coronavirus while on board.

The ship made three visits to Hong Kong during the incubation period for some of the cases later found on board, and some 3,600 people are currently confined to the ship pending tests.

Health officials are investigating three additional cases of novel coronavirus (nCoV-2019 (Wuhan)) infection, taking to 24 the number of confirmed cases so far in Hong Kong.

Border left open

Amid growing calls for a total closure of the border with mainland China, chief executive Carrie Lam has insisted on continuing to allow arrivals from mainland China via the airport, Shenzhen Bay port and the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge.

But Lam did make some concession to public concern by announcing a mandatory 14-day quarantine period for all arrivals from mainland China with effect from Saturday.

A Hong Kong businessman surnamed Koo currently in Shenzhen said he supported the total closure of the border.

"A comprehensive border shutdown would be the most effective measure," he said. "You don't really know, if someone doesn't have any symptoms, where they have gone in Hong Kong, and there aren't enough healthcare facilities."

Supplies running out

Many people in Hong Kong are already staying home, and supplies of household goods are quickly disappearing from supermarket shelves.

A video clip posted to social media showed people at one supermarket bulk-buying toilet paper after supplies to the city were hit by the closure of production lines in mainland China, with instant noodles, rice, soft drinks, and toilet paper already in short supply.

A resident surnamed Chan said he has run out of rice at home.

"I came to see if there was any rice for sale but I can't find any," Chan said. "I heard that there is some in stock, but it's only available in the morning."

A resident surnamed Tseng said she had the same problem.

"I've been to four or five stores and it has been sold out in all of them," she said. "I thought I could have instant noodles instead but I couldn't find any. They are sold out too."

Officials have sought to calm public fears, saying there are ample supplies of rice from Thailand and Vietnam, meaning that the city doesn't have to rely on supplies from mainland China.

Reported by Man Hoi-tsan and Lau Siu-fung for RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.


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