First Virus Death Reported in Hong Kong Puts Pressure on Lam
Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s chief executive, right, reacts as Sophia Chan, Hong Kong’s secretary for food and health, listens while wearing a protective mask during a news conference in Hong Kong. (Photographer: Justin Chin/Bloomberg)

First Virus Death Reported in Hong Kong Puts Pressure on Lam

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(Bloomberg) -- Hong Kong reported its first death in the coronavirus outbreak Tuesday, according to Cable TV, putting new pressure on leader Carrie Lam to contain its spread through the densely populated Asian financial hub.

The 39-year-old patient is only the second person outside of mainland China to die after contracting the new virus. According to earlier information released by the Hong Kong government, the patient had a pre-existing illness and was admitted to the hospital on Jan. 31.

He had traveled to Wuhan, the Chinese city at the epicenter of the outbreak, via high-speed rail on Jan. 21 and returned to Hong Kong two days later. Hong Kong’s Hospital Authority didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Hong Kong has 15 confirmed coronavirus cases and is on the front lines of the now-global battle to contain the illness, which has claimed more than 360 lives in mainland China since emerging in December. There have been 425 deaths globally, the vast majority in Hubei province, where Wuhan is located. Earlier this week, a 44-year-old died in the Philippines after contracting the virus.

The news emerged as Lam held a regular news briefing before meeting with the city’s Executive Council, one day after announcing further closures at ports of entry. She stopped short of completely sealing off the border.

First Virus Death Reported in Hong Kong Puts Pressure on Lam

The death will likely pile further pressure on Lam to shut the border with China -- a demand of thousands of striking local medical workers -- as deep distrust left over from months of violent anti-government protests fuel concerns she isn’t doing enough to stop the virus from spreading.

Taiwan added to that pressure on Tuesday when its foreign ministry announced the democratically run island would restrict visitors from mainland China, including foreigners who had traveled there within 14 days, starting Feb. 7. Hong Kong and Macau residents were excluded from the measures.

“Lam has no excuse but to tighten up the measures on border control, including stopping mainland travelers and mandatory quarantine for those Hong Kongers who returned from the mainland,” said opposition lawmaker Alvin Yeung. “We understand the mother of the deceased was also infected. That is to say there’s a risk of community spreading, hence actions must be taken now.”

‘Quite Serious’

Lam said Hong Kong is sourcing medical supplies globally and stocking hospitals was the first priority, after a shortage of surgical masks caused panic buying. She also said Hong Kong was working closely with authorities in neighboring Guangdong, a southern mainland province.

“The consequences yesterday were quite serious,” she told reporters of the strike’s impact on hospital services. “Critical operations have been affected.”

In addition to the partial border closure, her government’s efforts to ward off the outbreak include an extension of school holidays.

The coronavirus has rattled global markets, led airlines to cancel flights to and from China and seen millions on the mainland quarantined as Beijing and governments around the world struggle to contain its spread. The number of cases in China has topped 20,000.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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