250 overcome infection fears to fly back home from WuhanTop News | Michael Shum 5 Mar 2020
A total of 244 Hongkongers were airlifted on two charter flights from the coronavirus epicenter Wuhan city yesterday.
Two more flights will set off today to the Hubei provincial capital, more than a month after it was locked down as Covid-19 raged.
The Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs, Patrick Nip Tak-kuen, said yesterday the first Cathay Dragon flight took 109 Hongkongers. One was not allowed on the aircraft after being found with a fever at the Wuhan airport.
The flight arrived in Chek Lap Kok at 5pm yesterday. Passengers with protective clothing and face masks left the aircraft and three coaches later arrived at the Chun Yeung Estate quarantine camp in Fo Tan.
The second flight, operated by Cathay Pacific, took 135 on board, Nip said yesterday.
Passengers on the flights included Diploma of Secondary Education exam takers, pregnant women and those with urgent medical needs.
After a two-hour delay, the second charter flight arrived in Hong Kong at 10 o'clock last night, with Nip and Director of Immigration Erick Tsang Kwok-wai on board.
Forty government and health officials who flew to Wuhan, including Nip, were deemed safe and not required to undergo a 14-day quarantine upon their return to Hong Kong.
The Secretary for Food and Health, Sophia Chan Siu-chee, said: "Throughout the entire journey, immigration officers and government officials will be in full protective gear, and will remain in the airport the whole time and will not be in city areas."
Their body temperatures will be checked for 14 days and Department of Health officers will check and put them under medical surveillance, Chan said.
"They will be first sent to quarantine camp, where there will be medical personnel looking after them. Should they have any health needs or feel unwell, they will be assessed in the camp before being sent to hospital for further check-up and treatment," Chan said.
She said it was hard to predict how many returnees from Hubei province would be infected.
"We can't easily compare the situation with the Diamond Princess cruise, in which some 200 people are quarantined in Chun Yeung Estate. Among them, nine have been confirmed with the virus and one probable case," she said.
But Hong Kong's top microbiologist, Ho Pak-leung, predicted that one to five percent of the people returning from Hubei are carriers of Covid-19.
Ho believed the infection rate will not be as high as those taken from the Diamond Princess earlier.
Meanwhile, Pang, a Hongkonger stranded in Wuhan, said that he is over the moon as he will be taking the charter flight today.
"I have already been in Wuhan for 40 days. Setting off a day earlier is one day less living with worries," Pang said, adding his body temperature will be taken four times before boarding.
"I don't want to bring the virus back to Hong Kong either, therefore I am happy to cooperate with the quarantine arrangements by the government."
But not all were so fortunate.
Fan said his wife and two sons aged three and six were not on the charter flights.
"We have contacted the Immigration Department for assistance, but maybe our case is not regarded as first priority, therefore my wife and children are not boarding the first batch of charter flights," Fan said.