Hong Kong suspends 10 border checkpoints with mainland China in bid to curb spread of coronavirus

Protesters hold up a banner demanding a total closure of Hong Kong's borders with mainland China in Hong Kong on Feb 3, 2020. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

HONG KONG (REUTERS) - Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam announced on Monday (Feb 3) the suspension of 10 border crossings out of 13 with mainland China, in a bid to curb the spread of the new coronavirus, stopping short of calls for the entire border to be closed.

Mrs Lam had already closed some border operations, including cross-border ferries and high-speed rail services to the mainland.

She has said that closing the entire border would be "inappropriate and impractical" as well as "discriminatory".

Mrs Lam's announcement came after hundreds of medical workers went on strike in Hong Kong earlier on Monday to demand the government shut the border with mainland China to prevent the spread of the virus and ease pressure on a stretched health sector.

The Hospital Authority Employees Alliance (HAEA), which has about 18,000 members, said 2,400 workers took part in the strike, despite calls by the government for medical workers not to.

About 100 people rallied in the heart of Hong Kong's financial district in support of the health workers' union, with some holding banners reading: "Close Borders, Contain Epidemics."

The medical workers alliance had also demanded that the government facilitate the distribution of masks to the public, ensure that front-line medical workers have adequate supplies and protection, provide enough isolation wards for patients, and guarantee no reprisals for striking medical staff.

Hong Kong has 15 confirmed cases of the new coronavirus, which emerged in central China in December and has killed more than 360 people there and sent jitters through global markets.

The scare over the virus comes after months of anti-government protests in Hong Kong, triggered by what many residents see as unnecessary interference by Beijing in city affairs.

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Panic-stricken residents have emptied shelves in major supermarkets in Hong Kong, stockpiling meat, rice and cleaning products as fears escalate over the coronavirus.

About 90 per cent of the city's food is imported, with the bulk coming from the mainland, according to official data.

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