Lawmakers accuse gov’t of ‘incompetent, slow’ response to Wuhan coronavirus

Pro-democracy lawmakers hold a press conference responding to the government’s response to the Wuhan coronavirus. Screengrab via Facebook video/HK01
Pro-democracy lawmakers hold a press conference responding to the government’s response to the Wuhan coronavirus. Screengrab via Facebook video/HK01

Pro-democracy lawmakers today criticized what they characterized as the government’s slow response to the emergence of the mysterious Wuhan coronavirus after authorities confirmed for the first time yesterday that two people in Hong Kong have tested positive for the potentially fatal disease.

At a press briefing at the Legislative Council this afternoon, the lawmakers — all wearing surgical masks — urged the authorities to halt all flights and high-speed rail journeys from Wuhan immediately, quarantine anyone arriving from Wuhan, and require all visitors to Hong Kong to declare their health status upon arrival (something already required of passengers on flights into the city).

Before the briefing began, lawmakers held up signs that read: “Stop the Wuhan pneumonia outbreak, government must mend the fold after the sheep is lost” — a Chinese idiom that means to resolve a problem after incurring losses to forestall even greater ones.

The lawmakers were particularly critical of the fact that the authorities didn’t immediately quarantine the family of one of the patients — a 39-year-old tourist from Wuhan — instead allowing them to board a flight to Manila. Health officials have said that the family left before the test results were in, and that they were asymptomatic.

“If we don’t do anything at the border, we’re actually inviting the disease to come,” Civic Party lawmaker Kwok Ka-ki said. “What we’re asking for is border controls as a means of quarantine; it’s not to stop people from coming to Hong Kong, but we need to have a health declaration form.”

He also said that authorities needed to screen Wuhan residents and anyone who had visited they city in the last 14 days to ensure they’re not carrying the coronavirus into the SAR.

Democratic Party lawmaker Helena Wong, meanwhile, had strong words for the government, saying the situation was “unacceptable,” and accusing the authorities of “not learning the lessons of SARS,” which killed nearly 300 people during a 2003 outbreak.

“We can’t see this government taking responsibility to protect the health and safety of its people,” she said, going on to accuse the authorities of failing to take take action to limit arrivals from the mainland because they were “too scared to offend the mainland, but not too scared to offend Hongkongers.”

The comments come hours after health officials said at a press conference that they’re considering expanding the health declaration forms requirement to visitors arriving from the mainland by high-speed rail, but that they needed to sort out some logistical issues first.

“There are challenges because the number of passengers is quite big and we don’t want to delay their passage,” said Wong Ka-hing, the controller for the Centre for Health Protection. “So it would depend on the logistics, the operation, and manpower, etc. We’ll take these into account and when all are sorted out promptly, we’ll implement it right away.”

Meanwhile, a protest is expected to take place at West Kowloon station at 4:30pm today urging the authorities and the MTR to suspend high-speed rail services into Hong Kong until the Wuhan coronavirus is under control.

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