More than 15,000 Hospital Authority (HA) employees have joined a new union, threatening to strike if the Hong Kong government does not close its border with mainland China.

There have been eight confirmed cases of the new Wuhan coronavirus in Hong Kong, as well as four overseas cases involving people who had passed through the city. China has confirmed 6,000 cases of the virus, with a death toll of 132 as of Wednesday.

HA Employees Alliance
The HA Employees Alliance. Photo: Stand News.

An atypical form of pneumonia was first detected at a street market in Wuhan. It bears symptoms similar to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which killed over 300 people in Hong Kong in 2003.

The HA Employees Alliance (HAEA) – a recently formed union – has urged the Hong Kong government to seal off the border with the mainland or its members will launch industrial action.

Long queues formed outside a commercial building in Mong Kok, where the union’s temporary office is based, on Tuesday to join the group. A statement from the Alliance said that some waited in cold and windy conditions for eight hours.

“The perseverance of Hong Kong people is strong – you made us, and the whole of Hong Kong see hope,” it said.

The 15,000 who signed up represented more than 10 per cent of the total number of staff employed by the Hospital Authority. The union said it was considering extending its sign-up period to Friday.

Several potential actions have been proposed, including suspending non-emergency service on Tuesday and maintaining only minimal services for four days from next Wednesday.

The union said it agreed with the government’s new measures to cut down the number of travellers from China to Hong Kong.

“In general, the HAEA agrees with the above measures, yet we must reiterate our persistence for the refusal of all entries to Hong Kong via China,” it said in a statement.

“The goal of such a measure is to prevent any non-Hong Kong resident from entering Hong Kong via China without a crucial purpose, and if such entry to Hong Kong is deemed unavoidable, each case should be reviewed independently on whether his [or] her entry should be granted. As for Hong Kong citizens returning to the city from China, stringent health monitoring measures should be implemented.”

It said that the SARS pandemic came to Hong Kong after a man travelled from China on a cross border bus to attend a relative’s wedding.

gov't press conference

The union said it will hold an extraordinary general meeting on Saturday as scheduled to discuss actions.

“The HAEA would like to urge all citizens of various labour sectors to join your respective labour unions. United we stand to fully safeguard the lives of the citizens in Hong Kong,” it said.

Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan said at a press conference on Tuesday that she understood medical staff members have faced concerns and pressure over the current situation.

“I want to tell colleagues that you are not alone. The chief executive and the whole government will support you,” she said.

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.