Over 500 Hong Kong citizens stuck in Hubei province – the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak – will return home on the second batch of charter flights on Wednesday and Thursday. Meanwhile, a top microbiologist has recommended a city-wide curfew to stem a surge in infections around Hong Kong.

A total of four flights will be chartered by the government to vacate citizens living in the Chinese province outside of Wuhan city. According to the Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Patrick Nip, they are scattered across different cities – including Xianning, Xiaogan and Huangshi – unlike the previous batch that were brought home earlier this month.

Hubei stranded citizens chartered flight
Some Hong Kong residents return home from Hubei on March 5. File photo: GovHK.

“Some Hongkongers live a six to seven-hour ride away from Wuhan airport. It will be a bigger challenge to send everyone to the airport safely and punctually,” Nip wrote on Facebook on Tuesday.

Leading the evacuation, Nip told the press at the airport on Wednesday that one fourth of the returnees were aged under 16. Some of their family members would take the chartered flights from Hong Kong to Wuhan to accompany the minors . Other citizens coming back included university entrance exam candidates, pregnant women and those with medical needs.

Patrick Nip March 25
Patrick Nip speaks to the press at the airport on March 25. Photo: RTHK screenshot.

Nip said on Facebook on Saturday that, after consulting public health experts, the government decided that the arriving citizens would be quarantined at home for 14 days, rather than being sent to a quarantine facility. Nip explained the decision was based on a sign that the outbreak had eased in Hubei recently, as there had not been any new confirmed cases in the province – except in Wuhan – over the past two weeks.

China to lift lockdown on Wuhan 

On Tuesday, authorities in Hubei announced that the two-month lockdown of Wuhan would end on April 8, whilst traffic restrictions would be eased around the rest of the province on Wednesday.

Anyone who wishes to leave the area will need a green QR code on their mobile phones to prove that they are healthy and safe to travel. The colour-based codes issued by the provincial government also come in red for confirmed or suspected cases, or for persons with a fever. A yellow version will denote that someone has come into close contact with an infected person.

First detected in China’s Hubei province, more than 422,000 people have been infected with Covid-19 globally, leading to over 18,000 deaths. In Hong Kong, 386 people have been infected and four died as of Tuesday.

Following the announcement, local media reported that High-Speed Rail tickets from Wuhan to Hong Kong on April 8 had been marked as “sold out” on several travel websites including on Trip.com.

But the minister for mainland affairs clarified on Wednesday that such information was incorrect. Nip said Wuhan is still locked down and its external traffic remained halted, adding that the Hong Kong government will monitor the situation closely.

Calls for curfew measures

Meanwhile, leading microbiologist Ho Pak-leung has urged the Hong Kong government to step up measures against social gathering this week in view of the recent spike in the number of confirmed cases in the city.

The director of the University of Hong Kong’s Centre for Infection warned on Wednesday that, if the government does not impose curfew-level measures to curb the spread of the virus in the community, medical services provided by public hospitals will collapse next week.

Lan Kwai Fong revellers
Multiple confirmed cases in Hong Kong involve patients who had been to Lan Kwai Fong. File photo: Wikicommons.

“The government should not implement one-off measures bit by bit anymore,” Ho said.

The government proposed on Monday that 8,600 businesses would be prevented from selling alcohol as a response to numerous cases that involved patients who had visited the Lan Kwai Fong entertainment district.

He urged the government to refer to measures taken by the UK and Germany to ban gatherings of a certain number of people, together with other policy implementation and law enforcement.

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Kelly Ho

Kelly Ho has an interest in local politics, education and sports. She formerly worked at South China Morning Post Young Post, where she specialised in reporting on issues related to Hong Kong youth. She has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, with a second major in Politics and Public Administration.