Hong Kong Sharply Cuts Transport Links With Mainland in Virus Fight
Hong Kong escalated its precautionary measures against the coronavirus outbreak by shutting down high-speed trains that connect to the mainland and suspending cross-border tour buses and ferries.
Flights between mainland China and Hong Kong will also be reduced by half, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam said Tuesday. The measures are intended to contain the spread of deadly coronavirus by significantly reducing the number of travelers to and from mainland China.
Hong Kong is at a critical juncture in the epidemic fight, so containment measures need to be adjusted in light of the current situation, Lam said. The new steps are intended to curb more potentially infected people from coming to the city and increasing pressure on local hospitals, she said.
The measures take effect at 12:01 a.m. Thursday and will remain in place until further notice, Lam said, wearing a hygienic face mask at a press conference. China’s confirmed coronavirus cases rose to more than 4,600 on Tuesday, including eight in Hong Kong. There have been no reported fatalities in the city.
Starting Thursday, several ports of entry will cease operation, including passenger services at Hong Kong West Kowloon Station, Hung Hom Station, Sha Tau Kok and Man Kam To.
Lam also said mainland authorities suspended issuing new passes under the Individual Visit Scheme, which allows travelers from the mainland to visit Hong Kong and Macau without joining group tours. The system accounts for about half of visitors entering Hong Kong. Chinese travel agencies previously were ordered to cancel group tours nationwide.
According to entry data at West Kowloon station, the terminal station of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong express rail, nearly 11,000 Hong Kong residents returned from the mainland Monday, and fewer than 2,000 mainland visitors entered Hong Kong, said Hong Kong Transport and Housing Secretary Frank Chan.
The government decided to start the shutdown Jan. 30 because many Hong Kong residents are still away from home and need enough time to arrange transportation back to Hong Kong, Chan said.
Lam also said non-Hong Kong residents would be charged for treatment costs of coronavirus starting Tuesday. The decision reversed Hong Kong’s previous stance that all coronavirus patients would be treated free of charge.
The Hong Kong Hospital Authority’s director for quality and safety, Chung Kin-lai, said at a press briefing Monday that providing free treatment to all patients is in line with legislation. But the move has raised concerns among local residents that Hong Kong hospitals might be overcrowded.
The previous decision to waive treatment costs for nonresidents was originally meant to prevent infected patients from spreading the virus into the community by avoiding check-ups for fear of high medical costs, Lam said.
Japan on Monday classified coronavirus as a “designated infectious disease,” legally allowing compulsory hospitalization, which means the government can use public money to pay for the medical treatment of those patients, whether local residents or foreigners.
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