Hong Kong to suspend high-speed rail service in bid to halt spread of coronavirus

Hong Kong's Chief Executive Carrie Lam during a press conference in Hong Kong on Jan 28, 2020. PHOTO: AFP
The high-speed rail service between Hong Kong and mainland China will be suspended from Jan 30, 2020. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

HONG KONG (REUTERS) - Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam announced plans on Tuesday (Jan 28) to suspend high-speed rail and ferry links with mainland China as the global financial hub scrambles to limit the spread of a new coronavirus.

More than 100 people have died from the flu-like virus, which emerged in China's central city of Wuhan in December, with the number of confirmed cases at 4,515 by Monday, up from 2,835 the previous day, health authorities have said.

High-speed rail services will be suspended from midnight on Thursday, Lam said, adding that the number of flights to mainland China would also be halved and personal travel permits for mainland Chinese to the city would be suspended.

"I thank the central government for supporting our work in this aspect (suspending cross-border transport) and the relevant mainland ministries and commissions for co-operating with us," she told a news conference.

Speaking just days after she announced a virus emergency, Lam, wearing a green mask, also urged Hong Kong residents to return from the mainland as soon as possible and quarantine themselves at home for 14 days.

With Hong Kong financial markets set to reopen on Wednesday after the Chinese New Year holiday, Lam was flanked at the news conference by the city's health secretary, Sophia Chan, and its commerce secretary, Edward Yau, both also wearing masks.

Chan said the former British colony had eight confirmed infections, while 100 patients were in quarantine.

Beijing-backed Lam defended her decision not to close the entire border, saying such a move would prevent the return home of Hong Kong people, some of whom commute daily.

A union of hospital workers, the Hospital Authority Employees Alliance, gave the government until Tuesday to heed its demands, which include barring entry from mainland China, before it plans to go on strike.

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The government had failed to contain the spread of the disease, a rights group, the Civil Human Rights Front, and democracy activists said in a joint statement, reiterating calls to close the border.

"Citizens have to start fending for themselves as the government has been extremely slow to respond to demands and requests, implementing problematic anti-epidemic measures," they said.

"The Civil Human Rights Front and all Hong Kong people are requesting the Hong Kong ... government to close off borders to fight the epidemic at its source!" Hong Kong's security secretary John Lee said the government would relocate resources to all border checkpoints to strengthen controls against the outbreak.

The coronavirus has rattled global markets and unnerved residents of Hong Kong, still haunted by memories of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (Sars) that killed nearly 300 people in the city in 2003.

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