Thousands of Hong Kong hospital workers will strike to demand mainland China border closure

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Medical staff in Hong Kong have voted on Saturday (Feb 01) for a strike which could begin as early as Monday, unless the government closes all borders with mainland China amid the coronavirus outbreak.

The Hospital Authority Employees Alliance announced that, of 3,156 eligible votes cast, 3,123 were in support of the strike, while only 10 people voted against, and another 23 abstained.

The alliance warned of more action if officials do not heed their demands.

There are now over 14,000 confirmed cases and more than 300 deaths due to the 2019-nCoV virus reported in mainland China as of Sunday (Feb 02).

A day earlier, Chief Executive Carrie Lam insisted she would not accede to demands to close all mainland border checkpoints, citing the World Health Organisation’s warning against discriminatory measures, following a partial closure of six out of 15 border checkpoints earlier this week.

Speaking after the results were tallied, alliance chairwoman Winnie Yu Wai-ming had tears in her eyes as she said the outcome reflected a clear demand for the government. She urged Lam to attend the alliance’s meeting the next day with the Hospital Authority, to listen to their voices face to face.

“If she does not attend the meeting, we will not participate. Because the power of deciding on the closure of borders lies with the government, instead of the Hospital Authority,” Yu said.

She said if discussions on Sunday fell apart, the strike – intended to come in phases, over five days – would go ahead.

“We [voted to go]on strike only because were no other options,” she said.

Asked about of the relatively low turnout – with only 17% of members voting – Yu said there were many other health care staff members who wanted to vote but were either working during the voting period or not in the city.

The alliance added that if the government ignored its demands until February 07, further escalations might happen, but they would also closely assess developments each day.

Apart from a complete closure of all borders, the alliance’s other demands included that the government make clear policies to ensure a supply of surgical masks; a halt on non-emergency services and an increase in the number of isolation wards at hospitals; better support for medical practitioners; and an open promise not to punish those who participate in the strike.

The alliance was joined in its call for border closures by the city’s biggest nursing union. The 30,000-strong Association of Hong Kong Nursing Staff previously said it would not rule out a “second wave” of potential strikes if the administration did not listen to the sector’s demands.

Elsewhere, more than 380 employees at general outpatient clinics under the Hospital Authority signed a joint statement urging the government to close all Hong Kong-mainland borders. They said only city residents and mainlanders with working or student visas should be allowed entry.

“If the government neglects our advice, we will adopt any strategies that are in line with professionalism and the safeguards of labour laws, including strikes, to urge the government to choose the correct anti-epidemic path by closing the borders,” the statement read. (Source: SCMP)

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