US allows Hong Kong consular staff to leave city as coronavirus cases pile up

Screengrab via Google Maps.
Screengrab via Google Maps.

The United States on Tuesday authorized non-essential consulate staff to leave Hong Kong as the number of coronavirus infections in the city continues to creep up.

Non-essential staff and their family members will be allowed, but not required, to leave the city “out of an abundance of caution related to uncertainties” surrounding the coronavirus, an announcement said, though the U.S. consulate in the city will remain open, Reuters reports.

The announcement came after seven new cases of coronavirus were confirmed on Tuesday, bringing the total tally to 49. One of those patients, only one has died so far.

The U.S. State Department had already issued similar notices to staff in mainland Chinese cities such as Beijing and Shanghai, while consular employees in Wuhan — the epicenter of the outbreak, and where the virus first originated late last year — were compelled to leave.

So far, more than 1,100 people died of the coronavirus in mainland China, the vast majority in Hubei, the province where Wuhan is located.

In Hong Kong, more than 2,100 people have undergone mandatory 14-day quarantine periods at home or in hotels after having recently traveled to the mainland.

Anyone caught breaching the quarantine order could face up to six months in prison and a fine of up to HK$25,000.

Taiwan, South Korea, the Philippines, and Bangladesh have imposed entry restrictions on Hongkongers over coronavirus fears, while Italy has banned all flights from Hong Kong.

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