Hong Kong closes most of China's crossings for viruses while doctors attack
HONG KONG: Hong Kong announced on Monday that it would close all the lands, except two, with the mainland of China to stop the spread of a new and deadly one, as doctors organized attacks calling for the border to be completely sealed.
The semi-autonomous financial center has 15 confirmed cases of the disease, most brought from the continent where the epidemic began and so far has killed more than 360 people.
On Monday afternoon, the city leader said that all land crossings would close at midnight, except for two bridges, the first that connects Hong Kong with Shenzhen and the second that connects it to the Macau casino center.
The city's airport, one of the busiest in the world, would remain open to the mainland, although there are already restrictions for people in the central province of Hubei, where the epidemic began.
Lam said the latest closures, which occurred after four crossings were closed last week, would reduce the amount of continental Chinese and allow officials to concentrate resources at two land entry points and at the airport.
The numbers will go down, he told reporters.
He reiterated his opinion that a complete border closure would be impractical, economically damaging and discriminatory given the close links between Hong Kong and the mainland.
But calls for a complete border closure are growing, fueled by a historical distrust of the continent after nearly 300 died in the 2003 SARS outbreak that was initially covered by Beijing .
On Monday, hundreds of medical workers quit their jobs to start a five-day strike.
The first group was non-essential staff, but the union has said that more strikers, including frontline doctors and nurses, will retire on Tuesday after they rejected the government's latest move.
The city's Hospital Authority, which employs 75,000 people, warned that half of the previously booked operations would be canceled, but the strike seemed to have little impact on emergency procedures.
Lam said his decision to close more border crossings was not triggered by the attacks, which he described as an irrational act.
Some 13,400 continents entered Hong Kong on Saturday, compared to 27,800 three days before the partial closures of the checkpoints were announced.
More than 100,000 Hong Kong residents also return to the city every day, 56,000 through land crossings with the mainland.
Criticism of the Lam administration's decision not to seal the border has come from opposition lawmakers and some medics - but also from her own pro Beijing camp.
The virus outbreak comes at a politically precarious moment for Lam, who has record approval ratings after deploying riot police to face seven months of protests in favor of sometimes violent democracy.
Animosity towards Beijing and mainlanders has also risen steeply in recent years in lockstep with Hong Kongers pushing for democracy.
Many in Hong Kong feel an increasingly authoritarian Beijing is clamping down on the city's freedoms.
And they also resent the economic pressures caused by the influx of continental migrants and hikers, something that has helped raise prices for everything from pharmacy products to retail rentals and homes.