Lawmakers float evacuation plans for 2,000 in Hubei

Top News | Cindy Wan 14 Feb 2020

Lawmakers stepped up pressure on the government to evacuate the 2,000 Hongkongers stranded in Hubei province, with Michael Tien Puk-sun floating the idea of engaging a cruise ship to quarantine them.

In a radio program yesterday, Tien said the government is finding it difficult to find enough places for quarantine even if it comes up with ways to bring back stranded Hongkongers from more than 30 Hubei cities.

He suggested renting the cruise vessel World Dream -- which can accommodate up to 3,400 guests - and turning it into a floating isolation camp.

The ship left Kai Tak Cruise Terminal but is still within Hong Kong waters after passengers disembarked on Sunday, after its crew members were cleared for the coronavirus.

"Cruise ships like World Dream are best fit for quarantine because many cabins come with a window for ventilation. They definitely make better quarantine camps than hotels," Tien said.

Other alternatives, such as military barracks, do not have toilets in each room, while hotels have sealed windows that cannot be opened, he said.

Tien said Hong Kong citizens are in a dilemma as to whether to support the government in bringing back stranded citizens from Hubei.

"On the one hand, Hongkongers want to give a helping hand, but on the other hand they fear their return will cause another round of cases in the SAR," he said.

"I can understand citizens' concerns if the 2,000 would be scattered into different districts after returning to Hong Kong."

Given that citizens and district councillors have strongly opposed setting up quarantine camp in their districts, Tien said the ship makes a good option because it is on the sea far away from residential areas.

He called the senior management of the ship's mother company Genting Dream to ask if it is feasible to rent out World Dream for half a year.

"I didn't ask the price, but we think the concept works," he said.

He said the government was concerned that the cruise company might refuse and there could be hygiene problems, but Tien believes money can easily solve these problems.

The government can hire experts to study the possibility and clean the ship before returning it, he said.

Meanwhile, Business and Professionals Alliance lawmaker Priscilla Leung Mei-fun said an airliner told her party members it is willing to bring stranded Hongkongers back.

She urged the government to discuss with the airline possible evacuation plans and virus control and prevention measures for airlifts.

Civic Party lawmaker Kwok Ka-ki, who is a doctor, said Department of Health officers should fly with stranded Hongkongers if there are evacuation flights.

It would be safe for the health officers if they are properly equipped, he said.

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