Hong Kong Shuts More of Its Border as Health Workers Strike

(Bloomberg) -- Hong Kong will seal off more checkpoints with China in order to contain the spread of the deadly virus that’s claimed more than 360 lives in the mainland, as medical workers in the city began a strike aimed at forcing the closure of the border.

The city will close more of its ports of entry effective midnight Tuesday, including Lo Wu, Lok Ma Chau, Huanggang, and the Hong Kong-Macau Ferry Pier, Chief Executive Carrie Lam said at a briefing Monday, adding that China had already stopped issuing visas to Hong Kong as part of the containment effort.

Hong Kong Shuts More of Its Border as Health Workers Strike

The new measure would leave only three border checkpoints in operation: Shenzhen Bay port, the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge and the airport, Lam said. Passenger traffic at those ports of entry accounted for 63% of all visitor arrivals Sunday, according to statistics on the Immigration Department’s website.

Hong Kong Shuts More of Its Border as Health Workers Strike

Lam said the total number of people coming from mainland China and Macau, excluding those arriving from the airport, had dropped 57% to 73,019 on Monday, versus 170,991 on Jan. 29, the first day the city’s border control measures came into effect.

‘Society’s Interest’

Lam stopped short of announcing a full border closure with the mainland despite pressure from Hong Kong’s public to take stronger measures against the rapidly spreading virus, which has already led nations around the world to suspend air travel to China and close their borders to visitors from the country. Her announcement came after more than 2,500 Hong Kong medical professionals began a five-day strike after the government refused their demand to shut all entry points from China.

Talks between the union and the Hospital Authority failed after Lam decided not to attend negotiations on Sunday, Radio Television Hong Kong reported, citing Winnie Yu, chairwoman of the Hospital Authority Employees Alliance union.

Yu said the union would decide whether to escalate its strike after a later meeting with the Hospital Authority’s senior staff.

Lam criticized the decision to strike, saying it could further burden the city’s Hospital Authority. “The government and health workers share the same goal -- we both agree to reduce the cross-border flow of people,” she said. “The government has been working toward this goal. However, we have to think about society’s interest as a whole and some Hong Kong citizens’ needs.”

Services Normal

Deacons Yeung, the Hospital Authority’s Director of Cluster Services, said Monday that emergency services remained normal and authorities had activated a “major incident control center” to monitor the situation, according to RTHK. The impact on emergency services appeared limited throughout the day.

The authority warned earlier that about half of all pre-booked operations at public hospitals would have to be postponed if the strike went ahead, RTHK said, citing official Ian Cheung.

About 99% of the 3,000 union members who voted in a Saturday ballot backed the strike. More than 9,000 members have pledged to take part in the action, which will initially see non-emergency services suspended and only limited emergency needs provided.

Last month, Lam said Hong Kong would stop individual travelers from the mainland from coming into the Asian financial hub. Hong Kong has shut the busy high-speed rail connecting it to China and pared the number of flights from the mainland in order to contain the virus from spreading further.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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