HONG KONG: Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam announced on Monday (Feb 3) the suspension of 10 border crossings out of 13 with mainland China in a bid to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus, stopping short of calls for the entire border to be closed.
The city's airport - one of the world's busiest - would remain open to mainlanders, although there are already restrictions on people from central Hubei province where the epidemic began.
Lam, chief executive of Chinese-ruled Hong Kong, was speaking hours after more than 2,500 workers from the Hospital Authority Employees Alliance (HAEA) went on strike to call for the border to be shut and better protection for hospital staff, among other demands.
"We should be united if we have the same goal. At this critical moment, (some people are) taking extreme means and it is inevitable it will affect the rights of patients," Lam said.
"Those using extreme means to try to force the government's hand will not succeed."
The Hospital Authority said those using extreme means "to try to force the government and Hospital Authority’s hands will not succeed".
Striking workers at the Hospital Authority building booed as they watched Lam speak, calling her a liar and chanting: "Close all borders."
The medical workers, members of the newly formed union, held a press conference shortly after Lam spoke and said they planned to keep up their strike action.
HAEA chairwoman Winnie Yu said she expected around 9,000 of the alliance's roughly 18,000 members to strike on Tuesday.
The HAEA's five demands are for the government to close the border, distribute masks to the public, ensure that front-line medical workers have adequate supplies and protection, provide enough isolation wards for patients and guarantee no reprisals for strikers.
Lam said the latest closures - which came after four crossings were shuttered last week - would reduce the number of Chinese mainlanders and allow officials to focus resources on two land entry points as well as the airport.
"The numbers will come down," she told reporters.
Lam had already closed some border operations, including cross-border ferries and high-speed rail services to the mainland. She has said that closing the entire border would be "inappropriate and impractical" as well as "discriminatory".
She also said that the city faces a shortage of masks, an issue that cannot be solved in a short period of time.
Hong Kong has 15 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus, which emerged in central China in December and has killed more than 360 people there.
Residents have emptied shelves in major supermarkets in Hong Kong, stockpiling meat, rice and cleaning products as fears escalate over the coronavirus outbreak.
About 90 per cent of the city's food is imported, with the bulk coming from the mainland, according to official data.
The coronavirus is expected to pile pressure on the city's economy, which sank into recession in the third quarter as the often violent protests scared away tourists and took a heavy toll on retailers.