HONG KONG: A group of protesters set alight on Sunday (Jan 26) the lobby of a newly built residential building in Hong Kong that authorities planned to use as a quarantine facility, as public fears in the financial hub about the coronavirus outbreak intensified.
A Reuters witness saw several masked protesters, clad in black, rush into the public housing block in Hong Kong's Fanling district near to the border with China, and set alight a Molotov cocktail before running out.
Black smoke could be seen pouring out of the building to the sound of fire alarms. Windows were smashed.
The fire was later put out by firefighters and the damage appeared to be confined to the lobby area. Hundreds of riot police also moved in, arresting at least one person.
The unrest came as city authorities announced anyone from Hubei, the central Chinese province where the outbreak began, would be denied entry until further notice.
Earlier in the afternoon, hundreds of regular Hong Kong citizens had blocked roads leading to the building with bricks and other debris, as anger grew towards government plans to convert the building into a quarantine zone as the number of confirmed cases in the city climbed to six on Sunday.
"We are dissatisfied with the government selecting this housing estate as a (quarantine) separation village as it's very close to a residential area and a primary school," said a 28-year-old resident surnamed Tsang.
Hong Kong has been convulsed with protests over the last seven months centred on Hong Kong's relationship with mainland China, with some protesters railing against what they see as growing interference from Beijing.
Beijing denies meddling and blames the West for stirring trouble in the former British colony.
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The outbreak of the coronovirus from the Chinese city of Wuhan has piled further pressure on embattled Hong Kong authorities.
Hong Kong authorities had earlier said they would convert "Fai Ming Estate, an unoccupied public estate in Fanling, into temporary flats for quarantine and observation of close contact persons without symptoms if needed".
But after the protest, the government said in a statement it would "cease the related preparation work in Fai Ming Estate."
The Centre for Health Protection said the plan to turn the housing estate into a quarantine zone would be suspended.
The agency has already turned a holiday park in an isolated rural area into a working quarantine facility. Two other holiday parks located away from major housing estates are also ready to be used as similar facilities.
But officials say they have struggled to find hotels and spare rooms for doctors and nurses working on the isolation wards where patients are being treated.
Health authorities in the afternoon said 107 people were now under quarantine, and there were 77 suspected cases.
The ability of the new coronavirus to spread is strengthening and infections could continue to rise, China's National Health Commission said on Sunday, with nearly 2,000 people in China infected and 56 killed by the disease.
A handful of cases have been reported outside China, including in Thailand, Australia, the United States and France, with health authorities around the world racing to prevent a pandemic.
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