After weeks of pressure, the government announced on Monday that it will arrange chartered flights to evacuate Hongkongers stranded in the mainland’s Hubei province, the epicenter of the ongoing coronavirus outbreak.
Officials confirmed that planes will be arranged for some 2,700 Hong Kong residents who show no symptoms of fever, respiratory or infectious diseases. Speaking at a press briefing, Patrick Nip, secretary for constitutional and mainland affairs, said they will prioritize those currently in the provincial capital of Wuhan — where the COVID-19 outbreak originated, as well as others with special circumstances, such as pregnant women and those with chronic illnesses.
“Under our plan, the first flight will take some of the 450 residents stranded in Wuhan city, as well as emergency cases stranded in other parts of the province,” Nip said.
But the official said the SAR government still needs to iron out details with their Hubei counterparts, and there is no word yet as to when the Hong Kong residents will start returning home, particularly as the residents are scattered across 37 cities.
“We have to handle this with care, and minimize the public health risk. In addition, we have to consider the epidemic situation on the mainland as well,” Nip said.
“It will involve lots of risks to transfer a group of people from one place to another.”
The decision to bring the Hongkongers home came as a woman and her daughter became what are believed to be the first known cases of Hong Kong residents escaping from the province — where travel has largely been restricted — and returning home, the SCMP reports.
There are also several pregnant women reportedly stuck in Hubei, as well as around 50 schoolchildren, including two kindergarten students.
Earlier on Monday, Wuhan authorities had announced that some non-locals would be allowed to leave the city, which has been under lockdown since Jan. 23, with permission, if they could show that they hadn’t had contact with virus patients and demonstrated no symptoms themselves.
But three hours later, the authorities abruptly revoked the announcement, blaming a traffic control group for prematurely making the announcement without the consent of local leaders.
So far the mainland has seen 77,658 confirmed coronavirus cases and 2,663 deaths, 2,563 in Hubei alone.
According to measures implemented earlier this month, anyone entering Hong Kong from mainland China must undergo a 14-day quarantine. So far the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the city stands at 81.