A man wears a face mask as a precautionary measure against Covid-19 as he walks past check-in counters at Hong Kong International Airport on March 24, hours before non-residents were banned from entering the city. (Photo: Anthony Wallace/AFP)
Hong Kong closed its airport and sealed its borders on March 25 as the city-state reported more Covid-19 infections amid criticism of the administration's slow action and a lack of adequate facilities to check the spread of the coronavirus.
Hong Kong had only 100 confirmed Covid-19 cases in early March and appeared to have checked its spread, but cases had surged to 386 by March 24, forcing the administration to take stiff measures. "From Wednesday (March 25) onwards, we will disallow non-Hong Kong residents coming from overseas countries arriving at Hong Kong International Airport," Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced on March 23.Of the 30 new patients infected on March 24 in Hong Kong, 19 had recently traveled abroad.Many people had anticipated the government move and are cooperating with the government, said Cecil Wong, a Hong Kong Catholic.
"My son works in Macau, but fortunately his family moved to Macau before the border was closed. If they were a few days late, it might have been troublesome and they could not leave," Wong said.
There were growing calls for the city to close its borders, especially in the early weeks of the Covid-19 pandemic in February when people were shuttling between mainland China and Hong Kong, a special administrative region of China.People like Wong consider the government was late to close the airport. "Many people have already suffered and become infected as a result of this late closing," Wong said.The Lam administration, working under the Chinese government, "is known for its late actions because her government has no decision-making power," Wong added.Jackie Hung, project officer of the Justice and Peace Commission of Hong Kong Diocese, backed the administration's action to close the airport but said the city's medical resources were not enough to meet the needs of patients.Lam, in her announcement, said the decisions to close down the city are based on expert opinion.
The situation has been continuously changing over the past two months and "based on expert opinion, we are bringing in these measures based on their effectiveness," she said."It would be very risky to base public health positions just because certain people have demanded ... it," she said.Dr. Ho Pak-Leung, a senior microbiologist at the University of Hong Kong, told Radio Free Asia that the city had seen a sudden surge in coronavirus cases in recent days.On March 23, he called for an immediate and enforceable lockdown and the closure of public venues in the city. "Can't they suspend licenses temporarily for some high-risk venues such as wedding venues and bars?" Ho asked.A two-week ban on transit passengers also came into effect on March 25. Passengers from mainland China, Macau and Taiwan will be allowed in if they haven't visited any country in the past 14 days.Mainland China had reported 81,218 confirmed Covid-19 cases and 3,281 deaths as of March 24. Macau, another special autonomous region under China and the world's biggest gambling hub, has 24 infections and zero deaths.The 14-day quarantine norm that earlier applied to passengers from mainland China and the rest of the world will now also be extended to passengers coming from Macau and Taiwan.Lam's decision came in the midst of ongoing social tension among pro-democracy protesters in the city of seven million people who inhabit one of the most densely populated areas in the world.Lam has also said the government was amending laws to ban nearly 8,600 restaurants, bars, and clubs with liquor licenses from selling alcohol to curb social drinking.Dane Cheng, executive director of Hong Kong Travel Board, predicted a further decline in the number of visitors to the city after the travel restrictions. Hong Kong Airport Authority has reduced passenger aircraft landing charges by 40 percent for four months to cope with a drop in revenue.
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