HK slaps red alert on world

Top News | Sophie Hui 18 Mar 2020

Hong Kong has now slapped a red travel alert on all countries in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic.

That means everyone arriving in the SAR must from tomorrow undergo a 14-day home quarantine or medical surveillance.

But people heading to the mainland, Macau and Taiwan will not be affected by the new arrangement.

And a 14-day mandatory quarantine already applies to those returning from the mainland.

Speaking before the weekly Executive Council meeting, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said more stringent measures are needed as about 90 percent of confirmed Covid-19 cases in the past two weeks were imported.

She also called on Hong Kong citizens not to travel abroad for business or leisure unless it is "very necessary and urgent."

And banning entry to all but Hong Kong residents would be "a very drastic step," Lam said.

"Throughout the process of this anti-epidemic work, we have to base our decisions on science, on the actual situation on the ground and other implications," she said.

"And the important point is ... all the confirmed cases, especially the so-called imported cases or those who have travel history during the incubation period or the close contacts, up to now have all been Hong Kong residents.

"With that factual situation, I think it is a bit too drastic to go into ... total banning because we have to understand there are always some very genuine and compassionate cases on an exceptional basis that despite a 14-day quarantine need to come to Hong Kong."

Also, she said, despite the virus situation that business had to be allowed to resume "otherwise we may have more problems on the economic front."

Lam said too that given the limited quarantine center facilities the majority of arrivals will be put under home quarantine, so she appealed to people who are affected to exercise self-discipline.

Additionally, she said, there are tens of thousands of students studying overseas, and the new arrangement will take effect tomorrow as that would give time for those returning to Hong Kong to prepare.

Officials have also suggested that Cathay Pacific Airways arrange additional flights to bring back Hongkongers from Britain and the United States.

On that, 67,000 masks have been reserved for the airline to distribute to returning passengers as officials are aware students have difficulties in buying masks in the two countries.

Cathay Pacific said nine flights from London's Heathrow Airport have been laid on for this week, with two additional flights from Manchester on Thursday and Friday.

Earlier, at least thee local universities suspended exchange programs with places affected by the coronavirus and advised students to return to Hong Kong. Other universities offered assistance to students on programs.

But the mother of one student said on a phone-in radio program she was worried about the home quarantine arrangement as the situation in Britain has become worse.

She said her son will fly back from London on Saturday, but the family is worried they might then have to be quarantined with him.

The head of the Centre for Health Protection's communicable disease branch, Chuang Shuk-kwan, said with a lot of returning students from overseas home quarantine could pose a problem for families.

It would be safer if family members could stay with friends or relatives elsewhere or in a hotel temporarily.

Also yesterday, travel agencies were canceling their remaining tours.

Hong Thai Travel has stopped all outbound group tours until May 1. It was also providing a special line for students and residents overseas to call with inquiries or book return flights to Hong Kong.

Wing On Travel said all group tours that were to have departed from yesterday to April 30 were canceled. Affected customers could choose other tours departing later, retain the tour cost for 12 months or secure a refund after deducting a handling charge.

EGL Holdings also canceled nine tours to Malaysia and Singapore set to depart from yesterday to April 15.

And WWPKG shelved group tours until April 15. Its branches in Mong Kok and Sha Tin will close from today to March 31 while its Causeway Bay and Tsim Sha Tsui branches will shorten business hours.

Legislator Yiu Si-wing, who represents the tourism sector, said the government's latest move did not comes as a surprise to those in the business.

He noted there were more than 10 tour groups currently in Europe, involving over 500 people.

Travel Industry Council executive director Alice Chan Cheung Lok-yee said the council and travel agencies have been in close touch with government officials on helping tour groups overseas to return to Hong Kong as soon as possible.

And from January 24 to Monday afternoon, she noted, more than 4,400 group tours had been canceled, with about 140,000 people affected.

She also said the tourism sector is pushing for another round of relief measures for travel agencies and employees.

sophie.hui@singtaonewscorp.com

More reports:

'Very unlikely' all classes will resume by April 20

Short quarantine and testing sought as students race home

Surge in importedcases sparks alarm

Top doctors give lowdown on tricky virus

Editorial:

Virus war of words harms all

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