Protest over quarantine zone as HK bars Hubei residents

An entrance to an empty public housing block in Hong Kong's Fanling district on fire on Sunday as demonstrators threw petrol bombs in protest against a plan to turn the estate into a quarantine zone.
An entrance to an empty public housing block in Hong Kong's Fanling district on fire on Sunday as demonstrators threw petrol bombs in protest against a plan to turn the estate into a quarantine zone.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

HONG KONG • Protesters threw petrol bombs at an empty public housing complex in Hong Kong that had been earmarked to become a temporary quarantine zone as the city battled the outbreak of a Sars-like virus.

The unrest on Sunday night came as the city authorities announced that anyone from Hubei, the central Chinese province where the outbreak began, would be denied entry until further notice.

City leader Carrie Lam has faced growing criticism over her administration's response to the crisis, including calls from some medical experts and politicians to close the border with the mainland.

Hong Kong has declared the novel coronavirus a public "emergency" - the city's highest warning tier - and last Saturday announced ramped-up measures to reduce the risk of further infections.

Among them was a plan to turn a newly built but currently empty public housing block in Fanling into a quarantine facility.

The buildings would be used to house people who may have come into contact with carriers of the virus as they wait to get tested, as well as front-line medical staff worried about infecting their families.

The city has diagnosed six positive cases of the virus so far.

Dozens of local residents and protesters opposed to the idea held rallies outside the complex on Sunday.

In the evening, police said assailants threw petrol bombs at the buildings. Firefighters later got the blaze under control.

The Centre for Health Protection said the plan to turn the housing estate into a quarantine zone would be suspended.

The agency has already turned a holiday park in an isolated rural area into a working quarantine facility. Two other holiday parks located away from major housing estates are also ready to be used as similar facilities.

But officials say they have struggled to find hotels and spare rooms for doctors and nurses working in the isolation wards where patients are being treated.

The virus outbreak comes at a time when Hong Kong is already boiling with widespread anti-government sentiment after seven months of often violent pro-democracy protests.

On Sunday night, Mrs Lam's administration announced sweeping measures to curb arrivals from Hubei province. All mainland residents of the province, as well as anyone who has visited in the last fortnight, would be denied entry.

Meanwhile, a suspected small-scale homemade bomb exploded in a toilet at a general hospital in the city yesterday, causing the temporary evacuation of some patients but no injuries, police said.

The device exploded in a toilet cubicle at the Caritas Medical Centre at about 2.30am local time.

The motive for the hospital blast was not known.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 28, 2020, with the headline 'Protest over quarantine zone as HK bars Hubei residents'. Subscribe