Pro-democracy lawmakers in Hong Kong protested against the city’s Beijing-controlled government on Thursday over its inadequate response to the Chinese coronavirus.
At a press briefing at the Legislative Council this afternoon, lawmakers all wearing surgical masks demanded the government halt all flights and high-speed rail journeys from the city of Wuhan, where the virus originated.
The lawmakers called for the immediate quarantine of anyone arriving from Wuhan and identification of the health status of those entering Hong Kong from elsewhere. Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced an expansion of the government’s power to isolate or quarantine individuals from the general public if they are deemed a public health hazard this month before China announced it had identified the never-before-seen virus.
Two people in the region have tested positive for the disease, posing a potentially major risk to protests and any other form of organized activities that are often a hotbed for mass contagion.
“If we don’t do anything at the border, we’re actually inviting the disease to come,” Civic Party lawmaker Kwok Ka-ki told reporters at the protest. “What we’re asking for is border controls as a means of quarantine; it’s not to stop people from coming to Hong Kong, but we need to have a health declaration form.”
Democrat Party lawmaker Helena Wong described the government’s response as “unacceptable,” accusing the authorities of failing to learn the lessons of the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak that killed nearly 300 people in 2003.
“We can’t see this government taking responsibility to protect the health and safety of its people,” she said. “They are too scared to offend the mainland, but not too scared to offend Hongkongers.”
Showing little sign of concern about the outbreak, around 8,000 people reportedly attended another pro-democracy rally on Wednesday evening organized by lawmaker Shiu Ka-Chun to show solidarity with those inside the Lai Chi Kok Reception Centre, a maximum-security institution for detainees and judgment respited prisoners.
The event had been approved by police, although Shiu claimed that officers had threatened to use tear gas if protesters blocked any of the surrounding area. The Correctional Services Department put barriers up outside the facility to stop protesters from gaining access to the building.
“Support our brothers and sisters until the end!” protesters were heard chanting. “Release the righteous! Give us back justice!” Another chant went, “Liberate Hong Kong, the revolution of our times! Five demands, not one less!”
Various speakers were invited to address the crowd, including one who had previously been detained in the facility. He described conditions inside the center as filled with rats and cockroaches, adding that the food was regularly served raw.
“They could have cooked it well, but they chose to give us raw food,” he told the crowd. “They can try to kill us all. But as long as there is one of us left, we will keep fighting.”
At one point, the crowd sang “Happy Birthday” after learning that it was one of the inmate’s birthday, as well as the popular protest song “Glory to Hong Kong.”
Political tensions in Hong Kong remain sky-high as a result of the ongoing pro-democracy demonstrations, which show no sign of abating ten months after they began. The protests initially broke out as a reaction to a proposed extradition bill by Hong Kong’s pro-China CEO Lam that would have allowed criminal suspects to be sent to China for trial.
The movement has since morphed into a wider resistance against Beijing’s increasing interference in Hong Kong’s internal affairs, undermining the “One Country, Two Systems” agreement signed with the British Empire following its handover in 1997. Protest leaders have laid out a series of demands, including an investigation into police brutality, the release of all political prisoners, and reforms to their voting system that would allow them to directly elect their leader.