Hong Kong closes smaller borders to mainland China amid calls for total shutdown


Thousands of medical staff in Hong Kong went on strike on Monday, February 03, over the government’s handling of the public health emergency. They have called for the authorities to shut down the city state’s border with mainland China amid the expanding coronavirus epidemic.

Hong Kong authorities said they would shut down the majority of border crossings with mainland China starting at midnight on Monday.

Striking workers set up stalls on picket lines outside several government hospitals on Monday, allowing participating medical workers to register as being on strike.

One staff member in the physical therapy department at one hospital said half of the department’s staff had taken part.

Winnie Yu, who heads the Hospital Authority Employees Alliance, claimed a partial victory for the strike action, however.

“As we have just seen, our action forced the government to take steps to close more border crossings,” Yu said. “But they left three border crossings open, and nearly 60 percent of inbound people came across at these crossings.”

Yu said the next phase of the strike will potentially involve some 9,000 medical staff from Tuesday through Friday.

A healthcare worker surnamed Choi said this strike was very different from a run-of-the-mill action, however.

“Usually, strike action is taken to fight for the personal rights and interests of employees, but this time our demands are very clear,” Choi said. “We want to see [the government]protect public health in Hong Kong.”

A striking worker surnamed Loh said a total border shutdown was the only way to stop the influx of people from the worst-hit areas of the epidemic in mainland China.

A patient surnamed Lee at the Tuen Mun Hospital said he supported the strike, which he blamed on “poor decision-making” by the government.

A patient surnamed Woo said he had to wait longer than usual for treatment on Monday, but said he believes a total border shutdown is necessary to protect Hong Kong’s seven million people from the coronavirus.

The government on Monday announced it would shut all land border crossings except for the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge and the Shenzhen Bay crossing, but the airport will still receive incoming flights from mainland China, the government said.

Chief executive Carrie Lam said it was impossible for the city to completely shut down the border, because many people in Hong Kong have a “genuine and legtimate” need to travel back and forth across it.

All ferry services coming into Hong Kong have also been suspended, she told a news conference on Monday.

But Lam said the additional closures were unconnected to the strike by medical staff in government hospitals.

“The measures to further control the flow of people across our border are in the same vein as we have done before, but a bit stronger,” Lam said.

“They have nothing to do with the five-day strike threat by some Hospital Authority staff,” she said. “Anyone who thinks that they can use extreme tactics like this to intimidate the [Hong Kong] government or the Hospital Authority won’t succeed.”

Hong Kong had reported 15 confirmed cases of the Wuhan coronavirus by Monday.

Democratic Party lawmaker Helena Wong said the government’s moves are confusing, and called on Lam to respond to widespread public support for a total border shutdown. (Source: RFA)