Hong Kong authorities have announced plans to deploy a second round of charter flights to evacuate stranded residents in China’s coronavirus-hit Hubei province as early as next Tuesday.
Mainland affairs minister Patrick Nip said at a press conference on Monday that the flights will collect Hong Kong residents from cities including Wuhan, where Covid-19 was first detected, as well as Xiaogan, Xianning and Huangshi.
Nip declined to confirm the number of flights and days of operation for the second evacuation, saying that the figures will be decided upon at the end of the registration process. Those with urgent needs such as serious illnesses will be given priority, he added.
The announcement came weeks after the first batch of four charter flights ferried 469 Hongkongers from Hubei, the epicentre of the pandemic.
Nip said that more than 3,400 Hongkongers are currently stranded in 37 cities in Hubei, of whom 14 were confirmed to be infected with Covid-19. Ten of those cases have been discharged, three remain in hospital – one in a serious condition – and one man who lived in Wuhan has died.
“Based on the experience of the first batch operation, we’ve come to the conclusion that using the Wuhan [Tianhe] International Airport as the base is the most operationally feasible, efficient and also in terms of managing risk,” he said.
More than 169,000 cases of Covid-19 have been recorded across at least 157 countries and territories, of which over 6,500 have died. Hong Kong has recorded 148 cases of infection with four deaths, while China has reported more than 80,000 cases with over 3,200 deaths. The World Health Organization officially declared the outbreak a global pandemic last Wednesday.
As with the first batch, evacuees from China will be placed under a mandatory 14-day quarantine upon return to Hong Kong. There are around 700 quarantine facilities available across the city, the secretary for constitutional and mainland affairs said.
Asked whether it was necessary to quarantine all returnees including those who have not been confirmed to be infected, Nip replied saying it was a precautionary measure to avoid further transmission.
“Hubei, and particularly Wuhan, [have] been infected areas and these returnees have been staying there for a considerable period of time,” he said. “For prudence sake and also for controlling the public health risk, I think it’s appropriate to make such an arrangement.”