Carrie Lam risks international travel ban on HK residents
1 February 2020
In quick succession, Singapore and the USA yesterday announced entry (and transit) bans on foreign nationals (excluding permanent residents and immediate family) who have visited mainland China in the last 14 days and advising home-quarantine of nationals and permanent residents who have been there, in an effort to reduce the spread of the Wuhan Coronavirus. The US will also impose mandatory quarantine on any US citizen who has been in Hubei Province in the prior 14 days.
HK Chief Executive Carrie Lam continues to resist such a ban on entry to HK by non-HK residents, limiting the ban only to non-HK residents who have visited Hubei Province in the prior 14 days. Yesterday she said that a ban on all non-HK residents would be "discriminatory" - as if discriminating against Hubei residents isn't. Yesterday's data show 5806 cases in Hubei Province and a total of 3976 in other provinces/regions - so it is clearly now a national issue and the non-Hubei cases may overtake Hubei in the coming days and then rise to reflect the much larger population (Hubei is about 60m, China about 1.4bn). The figures include 436 cases in Guangdong, of which 134 cases are in Shenzhen, next to the border with HK. Many Shenzhen residents have multiple-entry permits allowing 1 visit to HK per week.
Despite this relaxed approach to the border, the HK Government has put the city into unprecedented levels of lockdown that are entirely inconsistent with keeping the border so open. It's either an emergency or it isn't. Schools which were due to reopen after Chinese New Year on Monday (3-Feb) will not now open until at least 2 March. Museums, sports facilities, HK Disneyland and Ocean Park are all closed. Non-essential Government workers have been ordered to "work" from home and many public-facing services have been shut down. Even during SARS, such measures were milder. All of the burden of reducing transmission of the virus is being placed on HK residents, without protecting them by barring non-Hubei visitors from the mainland.
Mrs Lam is once again putting national unity and "One Country" ahead of "Two Systems" - something that she demonstrated in spades during the Extradition Bill saga. She has a choice to make. If non-Hubei residents continue to travel freely into HK and our numbers of confirmed cases continue to rise, then it is likely that other countries including Singapore and USA will start to include HK residents in their visitor bans, treating us as part of China rather than a separate immigration territory. All HK residents will find themselves barred from visiting the rest of the world, unless they have a foreign passport, and even then, they will only be admitted by their passporting country and will be quarantined if they go.
There are still too many unknowns about the 2019-nCoV virus, including its mortality rate, to take a more relaxed approach as the world normally would with seasonal influenza, which killed 356 HK citizens in the first 3 months of 2019 without any fuss.
So, Mrs Lam, for once in your life, do the right thing and stand up for Hong Kong. Join Singapore and the USA in banning entry to non-HK residents who have visited the mainland in the last 14 days, and impose quarantine measures on HK-residents who have.
Technical footnote: the PDF created by the HK Department of Health at 17:14 on 31-Jan purports to have Guangdong case figures as of "January 31, 2020, 24:00". Two problems - there is no such time in the 24-hour clock (midnight is 00:00, a minute later is 00:01), and if there were, then it would be more than 6 hours after the timestamp of 17:14.
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