Fri. Apr 23rd, 2021


Hong Kong slashes cross-border travel as coronavirus spreads

Hong Kong has announced plans to slash cross-border travel between the city and mainland China as the new coronavirus continues to spread.

More than 100 people have now died in China, with confirmed infections surging to more than 4,500.

High-speed trains and ferries that cross the border will be suspended from Thursday, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam announced. She wore a face mask.

The virus has spread across China and to at least 16 countries globally.

On Monday, Germany and Japan confirmed that they had cases involving people who had not travelled to China but caught the virus from someone who had.

This had previously been seen only in Vietnam, which borders China and where someone was infected by his father who had travelled from Wuhan, the city at the epicentre of the outbreak.

Several foreign governments with large numbers of citizens in Wuhan are planning air evacuations.

Wuhan, as well as the wider Hubei province, are already effectively in a lockdown with strict transport restrictions in and out of the area. Wearing masks in public is now mandatory in some Chinese cities.

On Monday, authorities in Beijing confirmed that a 50-year-old man had died – the first fatality in the Chinese capital.

What’s Hong Kong’s plan?

Carrie Lam announced Hong Kong’s new strategy to tackle the virus on Tuesday.

In addition to suspending train and ferry services, flights to mainland China will be halved. People will also no longer be able to receive permits to visit Hong Kong from the mainland.

A hospital workers union had threatened to go on strike unless the government heeded a list of demands, which included tightening the border with the mainland.

The city of seven million – a major financial centre – is part of China but retains significant autonomy.

Map shows spread of the virus in China

Tens of millions of people visit from mainland China every year but numbers were down in 2019 because of the pro-democracy protests that rocked the city.

“The flow of people between the two places needs to be drastically reduced” amid the outbreak, said Ms Lam.

Analysts say restricting travel from the mainland to Hong Kong – a major international hub – could help limit the spread of the new coronavirus to other countries.

“Wuhan, add oil!”: Watch residents shouting to boost morale in quarantined city

What’s the latest elsewhere in China?

The new coronavirus is thought to have emerged from illegally traded wildlife at a seafood market in Wuhan.

The number of total cases confirmed by China rose to 4,515 as of 27 January, up from 2,835 a day earlier.

Most of the deaths have been in Hubei province. The initial victims were mostly elderly people or those with pre-existing respiratory problems, but few details have been released about the dozens of deaths confirmed in recent days.

On Tuesday, China agreed for WHO to send international experts to the country as soon as possible to help understand the virus and guide global response efforts.

Two children wearing face masks and holding hands
The new coronavirus causes severe acute respiratory infection

In another development, a Beijing hospital built in seven days in 2003 to accommodate patients with symptoms of the Sars virus is being refurbished for the coronavirus outbreak, the South China Morning Post reported.

Construction and medical workers have been stationed at Xiaotangshan Hospital on the northern outskirts of the capital for several days, it quoted local sources as saying.

About 4,000 people worked on the building in 2003, reportedly breaking the world record for the fastest construction of a hospital.

A similar hospital is currently being built in Wuhan, with officials hoping to have it finished in six days.

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