Hong Kong’s government has put the territory on the highest state of emergency in response to the outbreak of coronavirus in mainland China. Schools will remain closed until Feb. 17, long after the Chinese New Year holidays, which begin today, should have finished.
Hong Kong is a Special Administrative Area of China and some 600 miles (919 km) from the epicenter of the disease outbreak, in the mainland Chinese city of Wuhan. Hong Kong has recorded five cases of the new disease, all among people who had previously been to Wuhan, and no deaths.
Chief executive Carrie Lam announced the measure on Saturday afternoon local time, shortly after she returned from the World Economic Summit in Davos. “We haven’t seen serious and widespread infections, but we are taking this seriously and we hope to be ahead of the epidemic,” said Lam.
The new measures mean health declarations will become mandatory at all border entry points into the city. Outbound travelers will also be subject to temperature checks.
With 1,750 cases, Hong Kong was among the places most affected by the outbreak of SARS, another coronavirus, in 2003. The city has since developed its response mechanism, and has already prepared two isolation camps for use if cases of the Wuhan virus escalates further.
Despite that there has been criticism that the response so far in Hong Kong has been too weak. Two trains per day that pass through Wuhan from Beijing and Tianjin are still arriving in Hong Kong, although no passengers are allowed to board in Wuhan. Flights from Wuhan to Hong Kong have only been halted since Thursday, when Wuhan was locked down by local authorities.
The planned marathon race in Hong Kong on Feb. 9 has been cancelled. But,, unlike the mainland cinemas remain open in Hong Kong.
Hong Kong earlier cancelled the traditional New Year’s Day fireworks. That was not a virus prevention measure, but a response to the territory’s misery after seven months of political turmoil.
Despite the Lunar New Year holidays, when some 600 million people would normally travel withing China, mainland authorities have now locked down Wuhan and several other cities. The official death toll now stands at 40.