Hong Kong starts quarantine for arrivals from mainland China

HONG KONG: Hong Kong began on Saturday to impose a mandatory two-week deadline for anyone arriving from mainland China, a dramatic escalation of its attempt to stop the spread of the deadly.

The vast majority of people crossing the border are expected to self-quarantine and face daily phone calls and timely checks by officials, with up to six months in prison for those who are in breach of the period of isolation.

Authorities expect the quarantine perspective to virtually stop cross-border traffic while allowing the city to remain stocked with food and goods from the continent, where the virus has now killed more than 700 people.

Arrivals have plummeted 75 percent in recent weeks. But thousands of people queued at the neighbor on Friday night to exceed the midnight deadline before the new quarantine rules entered.

In the early hours of Saturday morning, only a small group of people arrived at the crossing of Shenzhen Bay.

I have to go back because my daughter goes to school here, said a woman who gave her last name as Song to the AFP after finishing a 20-day family vacation on the continent.

We will quarantine, because this is for the public good, he added. A security guard who gave his last name as Lam said that arrivals increased by approximately 50 percent in recent days and that most were Hong Kong.

Cabinet ministers revealed how quarantine would work Friday night, just six hours before the new policy takes effect.

Hong Kong residents are allowed to quarantine for themselves in their home and continental and international visitors in hotels or other accommodations they have organized.

But those without planned accommodation will be taken to temporary facilities prepared by the government.

Anyone who has been to mainland China in the last 14 days and then flies to Hong Kong from another destination will also be quarantined.

Visitors with a visa of less than 14 days will be denied entry, which will block most of the continent's visitors, who tend to travel to Hong Kong with a seven-day permit. The city plans to use an army of civil service volunteers and some students to make timely checks and daily calls to ensure people stay at home.

The new regulations have been enacted under an emergency law that allows city leaders to avoid the legislature during an illness outbreak.

Exemptions are being made for a variety of key jobs that include flight and boarding crews and cross-border truck drivers to ensure that goods and food continue to reach the city.

Hong Kong gained first-hand experience of an outbreak of deadly disease in 2002-03 when, or SARS, spread, killing 299 people. The virus left deep psychological scars and saddled people with distrust of the authorities in Beijing who initially covered the outbreak.

In the last week, the city was affected by a wave of panic purchases, with empty supermarket shelves of basic products such as toilet paper, hand sanitizer and rice. The government has said supplies are stable and false online rumors were behind the frenzy.

More than 34,000 people have been infected with the new coronavirus in China.

Hong Kong has 26 confirmed cases, with a patient who died earlier this week. Many of the most recent infections have no history of travel to mainland China, generating fears that the city now has a self-sufficient outbreak.

There have been growing calls for the mainland border to be sealed entirely. But Hong Kong's pro Beijing leadership, which has record-low approval ratings after months of pro-democracy protests, has been reluctant to make such a move. They have however gradually shut all but two of the land borders while keeping the airport open.