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Coronavirus

Hong Kong imposes 14-day quarantine on all mainland visitors

Striking hospital workers want border sealed to combat coronavirus spread

Hong Kongers line up to buy face masks on Feb. 5. The territory's medical system is under strain.   © AP

HONG KONG -- Hong Kong will begin quarantining all arrivals from mainland China for 14 days on Saturday, further tightening its border controls to curb the spread of the deadly coronavirus amid pressure from striking hospital workers.

The city had confirmed 21 coronavirus cases as of Wednesday, including patients with no recent travel to the mainland, where the outbreak originated.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam told reporters Wednesday that the infection had entered a "new phase" amid signs that the virus was spreading from person to person within the territory.

The compulsory quarantine will include residents who reenter the city from the mainland, along with people traveling to Hong Kong for business purposes. The screening process as well as the locations of the holding centers remain to be determined.

Hospital workers in Hong Kong began a strike Tuesday, demanding that the city completely close the border with China. About 7,000 people took part in the strike that day, a union said. Medical centers are coping with a shortage of nurses, leaving them unable to perform surgeries in some cases.

The coronavirus outbreak stirs memories of the SARS epidemic in 2002-03, when severe acute respiratory syndrome killed 299 people in Hong Kong. The unease can be seen in the crowds of people buying surgical masks and other supplies.

Hong Kong officials suspended the high-speed rail link to the mainland last month. The city has closed most border crossings with China, refusing entry to individual travelers from the mainland.

Despite those measures, roughly 10,000 people from the mainland enter Hong Kong daily. In some areas, citizens have taken it upon themselves to perform temperature checks on those who crossed the border.

The quarantine is expected to slow cross-border traffic. But it remains to be seen whether the strikes will end, given the deep-rooted distrust for the government among many in Hong Kong. Subway, bus and airport workers are considering strikes as well, to pressure officials to seal the border.

Hong Kong will require public officials to work from home through Feb. 16, extending the policy by one week. Private businesses also are being asked to offer telecommuting and other flexible work patterns.

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