Hong Kong will ban all foreign visitors from entry from Wednesday due to a spike in imported coronavirus cases, Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced on Monday.

The government has also proposed amending laws to prohibit 8,600 licenced restaurants and bars from selling alcohol in an effort to promote social distancing. Lam added the measure aims to prevent viral transmission in intimate settings.

traveller HK AIRPORT
A traveller in the Hong Kong International Airport. File photo: GovHK.

All travellers from mainland China, Macau and Taiwan will be barred from entry if they have been to a foreign country in the past 14 days, Lam announced. The measure will be effective for a fortnight.

The government will also extend its compulsory 14-day quarantine requirement to visitors from Macau and Taiwan. The measure has been effective for travellers from mainland China since February 8, and for those arriving from all other countries since last Thursday.

The decision came amid growing pressure from both sides of the political aisle to close entry to non-Hong Kong residents.

‘Restrain yourself’

During Wednesday’s press conference, Lam appeared to become emotional as she expressed her respect for frontline medical workers, saying that they had “fought persistently for more than two months.”

She urged members of the public to do their part to tackle the pandemic: “If a community outbreak occurs due to a small group of people who deliberately violate our home quarantine rules to go out to play and eat, [I ask] how can these people face our frontline medics?”

march 23 carrie lam
Photo: inmediahk.net.

Lam said the government is willing to bring back overseas Hongkongers, including students studying in the UK, the US, passengers on the Diamond Princess Cruise in Japan, and those stranded in Hubei province. But returnees should abide by the government’s compulsory home quarantine rules, she added.

“I urge anyone who plans to violate the home quarantine rules and anyone who insists on going out, to please think seriously. Can you not wait and restrain yourself for a longer period of time? Please let Hong Kong have a chance at conquering this battle.”

First detected in China’s Hubei province, Covid-19 has infected more than 339,000 people and led to more than 14,700 deaths across at least 167 countries and regions. Hong Kong reported 317 infections as of 4pm on Sunday, with the majority of newly-confirmed cases having travelled abroad during their incubation periods.

Additional reporting: Kelly Ho.

Correction 19:28: An early version of this article mistakenly stated that Hong Kong residents would also be barred from entry.

Jennifer Creery is a Hong Kong-born British journalist, interested in minority rights and urban planning. She holds a BA in English at King's College London and has studied Mandarin at National Taiwan University.