Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam on Saturday declared a virus emergency in the Asian financial hub, announcing a package of measures to limit the city’s links with mainland China.
Schools, now on Lunar New Year holidays, would remain shut until Feb. 17, while inbound and outbound flights and high-speed rail trips between Hong Kong and Wuhan would be halted.
Lam said all official visits to the mainland and official Lunar New Year celebrations would be scrapped immediately.
She also said she had sought assistance from China’s State Council to ensure on-going mask supplies were adequate.
They may also ask universities to extend holidays too.
Lam’s statements came hours after she returned from the World Economic Forum in Davos and amid broader tensions as her team grapples with at times violent anti-government protests that have rumbled on for seven months.
“I hereby urge all citizens to stay united to fight against the epidemic to protect all Hong Kong people’s health and safety,” Lam said.
She added that it would be impractical to shut down all border crossings with the mainland.
Some protesters have railed against growing interference from Beijing seeking to curb the city’s freedoms while others have expressed fear over greater integration with the mainland.
The city’s health authorities have confirmed 5 coronavirus cases, all linked to Wuhan, where the virus first appeared, with a further 122 people being treated as suspected of having the disease.
The first case was confirmed on Wednesday, a 39-year-old man visiting from Wuhan who crossed by high-speed rail from neighboring Shenzhen.
The condition of one of the people confirmed with the virus deteriorated on Saturday and the patient was now on a respirator, Hong Kong’s government-funded broadcaster RTHK reported.
Hong Kong earlier deployed temperature screening equipment at the airport and the high-speed rail station. Air passengers are required to fill in health declaration forms while isolation wards have been set-up in hospitals.
Reuters witnesses have described the widespread use of masks in offices and on public transport, a reflection of the city’s strong memories of an earlier coronavirus crisis.
Coronaviruses are a family of viruses named because of crown-like spikes on their surfaces. The viruses cause respiratory illnesses ranging from the common cold to the deadly Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).
Hong Kong was badly hit by the SARS virus in 2003 and has had many episodes of H5N1 bird flu for more than a decade. According to WHO figures, 1,755 people in Hong Kong contracted the SARS virus at the time and 299 died.