Chief Executive Carrie Lam has said that the closure of some checkpoints with China will reduce the number of mainland travellers from entering the city owing to the added inconvenience.
The government said on Monday that all land crossings, except Shenzhen Bay Port and the HongKong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge, would temporarily close in light of the coronavirus outbreak. The authorities have resisted calls to fully close the border, despite strike action by medics.
The SARS-like virus, which originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan, has resulted in one death and 15 confirmed cases in Hong Kong as of Tuesday.
The Lo Wu crossing, Lok Ma Chau Spur Line, Lok Ma Chau checkpoint and the Macau Ferry Terminal are now closed, though the Kai Tak cruise terminal and Hong Kong International Airport – which saw 4,649 mainland visitors arrive on February 2 – remain open. Three other land crossings, the Express Rail Link and the China Ferry Terminal and Tuen Mun terminal all closed last Thursday.
Following Monday’s announcement, China Travel Service said they would increase the frequency of bus services which connect Shenzhen Bay to Hong Kong Island, Kowloon, and New Territories to every 15-30 minutes. The promotional WeChat post was later deleted.
When asked if the latest border controls would be effective, Lam told reporters on Tuesday that the Shenzhen Bay Port had the capacity to handle an influx. However, its location would nevertheless deter visitors as it was “very inconvenient.”
She said that the ultimate goal of the closures was to cut public transport traffic, leaving the remaining ports open for “emergency crossings” where messages will be broadcast urging travellers to reconsider their trips: “We are working closely with Guangdong province which set up body temperatures checkpoints and collected health declaration forms upon departure, hoping to reduce the number of virus carriers at the source.”
Lam defended the speed of the government reaction and denied the move was a response to calls to close the border entirely: “100,000 Hong Kong residents arrive daily from mainland China. We may enforce tougher measures if passenger traffic remains high after the border closures. Such measures, however, should not contradict the Basic Law which allows residents the freedom to enter or leave the Region.”
Democrats have said that Lam’s response to the virus outbreak had been insufficient: “The measure is merely symbolic and superficial if the number of travellers cannot be reduced, and hence still burdens the medical system,” pro-democracy lawmaker Alvin Yeung told Now TV on Monday.
The novel virus has infected at least 17,391 people and led to 362 deaths globally as of Monday, according to the World Health Organization. It bears symptoms similar to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which killed over 300 people in Hong Kong in 2003.
Meanwhile, RTHK reported that there were 50 confirmed cases in Nanshan district, an area right next to the checkpoint.