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Hong Kong panics after first coronavirus death

Civil and religious groups seek urgent government intervention to ensure adequate food and medical supplies

Bo Fan

Bo Fan

Published: February 07, 2020 05:44 AM GMT

Updated: February 07, 2020 05:45 AM GMT

Hong Kong panics after first coronavirus death

A woman wearing a face mask looks at empty supermarket shelves, which had been used for stacking paper towels, in Hong Kong on Feb. 5. (Photo: Philip Fong/AFP)

Panic has spread across Hong Kong after the first coronavirus death was reported in the Chinese territory, forcing civic and religious groups to ask the government to end the shortage of essential goods and medical aids.

Nine civil and religious groups, including the Justice and Peace Commission of Hong Kong Diocese, met the media on Feb. 5 to press for urgent government intervention.

People began rushing to buy face masks, cleaning lotions and food supplies as the first death from the virus was reported in Hong Kong on Feb. 4.

The government said another three people have tested positive for coronavirus infection.

Hong Kong, which has open borders with mainland China, is facing a severe shortage of surgical masks, with thousands of mainlanders reportedly crossing over to the tiny island in their attempt to escape the deadly infection.

The deadly virus, first reported last December in China’s Wuhan city, has killed 638 people. At least 31,000 are reportedly infected across China.

Rights group leaders in Hong Kong told the media that their government had failed to provide adequate protection for its people or to prevent an inflow of people from mainland China, which has resulted in social unrest.

Besides a shortage of surgical masks and cleaning lotions, prices of essential goods are going through the roof, representatives told the media.

Oscar Lai of the Justice and Peace Commission told UCA News that members of the nine groups have suggested the government announce an inventory of anti-epidemic materials and a supply system to help the public access them quickly.

Lai said the government should preferentially allocate supplies such as masks to all emergency services, including medical institutions and social welfare agencies that run emergency social services.

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Wong Wan Ki, a member of a residents’ association from an apartment complex, told media that the shortage of surgical masks was forcing many to reuse masks, increasing the risk of infection. Many people are afraid to go out and buy masks.

Wong said some people had followed suggestions from a legislator to clean, steam and reuse masks. She said that increased the risk but the government had failed even to provide the right information to the public.

The Hong Kong Social Workers’ Union said the lack of adequate masks and protective clothing had hampered its work.

Union president Lun Chi-wai said a survey last week found that 68 percent of social welfare agencies do not have sufficient masks to meet their needs for a week.

The Hong Kong Catholic Commission for Labour Affairs is asking the government to formulate an epidemic prevention policy to reduce the risk to employees. It wants the government to announce flexible working hours.

The commission’s Feb. 5 statement also asked the government to set up a hotline to disseminate news about the epidemic and to initiate employee-friendly measures.

Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s chief executive, said that effective from Feb. 8 people from mainland China will face a compulsory 14-day quarantine on arriving in Hong Kong.

The shortage of essential goods and medicines has caused anxiety among people in Hong Kong, where memories of the devastating 2003 SARS outbreak are still fresh in people’s minds.

Hong Kong reported 299 of 774 deaths globally reported from SARS. Mainland China reported 349 deaths in that epidemic, which also started there.

The coronavirus epidemic is feared to have damaged Hong Kong’s economy, which has already taken a hit from pro-democracy protests that have disrupted businesses for the past nine months.

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