The Hong Kong government has announced that schools will remain closed until March 2. The move on Friday came shortly after the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared a global health emergency over the new coronavirus.

There have been more than 9,709 cases of the coronavirus with 213 deaths in China, according to official statistics. Hong Kong authorities have confirmed 12 cases, one of which included human-to-human transmission locally.

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Photo: Kaiser/United Social Press.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam said at a press conference that the decision to close schools was an attempt to limit the spread of the virus. “I must stress that this measure was made in the hopes that students will stay at home,” she said.

Lam also said that civil servants would be allowed to continue to work from home from next Monday onwards but must provide basic service to city residents.

Border closure row

The government previously announced a partial closure of the city’s border with China by halting the high-speed rail as well as ferries. However, main checkpoints – including Lo Wu, Lok Ma Chau and Shenzhen Bay – have remained open.

Lam said that the number of mainland tourists, excluding those travelling from the airport, had dropped by 91 per cent on Thursday when compared to January 16.

She added that temperature checks will be conducted at Hong Kong International Airport and tourists will be required to fill in health declaration forms at the Lo Wu and Lok Ma Chau border checkpoints.

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The novel virus was first detected in Wuhan, China. It bears symptoms similar to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which killed over 300 people in Hong Kong in 2003.

Lam said she hoped medical staff would seriously reconsider their plan to strike next week amid calls to close the border: “At the end of the day, those who suffer will be the patients and the healthcare system,” she said.

Kris Cheng

Kris Cheng

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.