Angry protesters took to the streets of Hong Kong over the weekend to denounce government plans for coronavirus quarantine facilities, arguing that treatment centers should be kept far away from residential neighborhoods, and would be unnecessary if their government properly restricted travel from China.
Radio Free Asia reported riot police confronting demonstrators on Saturday who used stray junk and rubbish to barricade highways, vandalized railroad ticket machines, and threw garbage onto rail lines. Vandalism was also reported at clinics that have been designated for treating “mild” cases of the coronavirus.
Hundreds of people participated in earlier peaceful demonstrations that called on Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam to close the border with China. Lam has imposed some travel restrictions, but has resisted demands to completely block travel to and from China for the duration of the epidemic.
Coconuts Hong Kong reported more protests on Sunday:
Demonstrators in Kwai Chung, Cheung Sha Wan, Sai Kung, Fo Tan, and Kowloon Bay gathered to demand authorities place any quarantine facilities far away from residential districts, despite acknowledging the need for extra facilities as the number of suspected cases continues to rise.
So far, Hong Kong has recorded 58 confirmed coronavirus cases, one of them fatal.
In Kwai Chung, hundreds marched in opposition to plans to use the South Kwai Chung Jockey Club general outpatient clinic as one of 18 designated clinics for treating suspected COIVD-19 patients showing mild symptoms.
The rally, which was approved beforehand, was led by district councillors and Democratic Party lawmaker Andrew Wan Siu-kin, with Kwai Tsing district councillor Ng Kim-sing saying the government should instead consider setting up a temporary clinic in the abandoned Kwai Chung Public School nearby.
Opposition lawmaker Claudia Mo spoke at the rally, describing Lam’s coronavirus plans as “setting a fire and extinguishing a fire at the same time.”
“Some ask, if residents keep opposing the use of certain sites for quarantine purposes, where else can the government seek extra facilities? But the root cause of the problem is the government is reluctant to entirely close the remaining borders,” Mo said, addressing criticism of the protesters for damaging or blocking access to designated coronavirus clinics.
At another rally, speakers criticized the Hong Kong government for acting furtively and issuing contradictory statements about its policies, effectively accusing Lam and her officials of verbally conceding to public outrage, but then proceeding with their quarantine plans anyway.
Government officials countered by saying coronavirus patients must be treated somewhere, including hundreds expected to soon be recovered from a cruise ship currently under lockdown in Japan, and if special clinics cannot be established to treat those suffering from the coronavirus, they will end up mixing with the general population of hospitals and spreading the disease further.
The Hong Kong public is growing more nervous as supplies run short, in some cases because coronavirus panic buying has cleaned out the stores. Some of the most acute shortages concern protective gear such as face masks, which were already popular both for disease prevention and keeping protesters anonymous from the authorities before the Wuhan epidemic began.
The Hong Kong Free Press reported on Sunday that thousands of street cleaners are struggling to find masks as a critical shortage looms and supervisors warn free masks will no longer be provided. There are fears the street cleaners will go on strike due to the mask shortage, which would make the city “filthy” and create even more health issues. Lam announced on Saturday that 700,000 masks will be distributed to street cleaners, but she did not specify when or how they will be passed out.
Hong Kong confirmed its 60th case of the coronavirus on Monday. Five members of the Hospital Authority were placed under medical surveillance after two engineers they came in brief contact with were diagnosed with the Wuhan virus. The engineers appear to have contracted the disease in Hong Kong, as they have not traveled overseas recently, and one of them has a wife who is also infected.