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HK unions threaten strikes in push for border closure to curb virus

This article is more than 12 months old

HONG KONG: Trade unions in Hong Kong, including hospital and rail workers, are threatening to go on strike unless the government closes the border with China to stop the spread of a new coronavirus that has sent jitters around the world.

While Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam has ordered the suspension of the high-speed rail service between the city and China from midnight yesterday and all cross-border ferry services, the unions said it was not enough.

"Front-line colleagues are in a panic as they are exposed to a high risk of getting the virus while at work," said Railway Power, which represents about 500 workers from metro operator MTR Corp.

The Hospital Authority Employees Alliance (HAEA) said it welcomed the steps the government had taken but wanted it to close the entire border and would meet tomorrow to discuss what more action it could take.

"There is still a considerable distance from our goal of full-scale preventive measures of infection control," the union said in a statement.

Mr Chris Cheung, treasurer of the HAEA, which has more than 18,000 members, said many of them planned to begin phased strike action next week unless their demands were met.

Hong Kong has confirmed 10 cases of the coronavirus, with one person in critical condition.

The health scare comes after months of at times violent anti-government protests sparked by fears that Hong Kong's autonomy, guaranteed under a "one country, two systems" formula, is being eroded by Beijing.

Mrs Lam has said it is "inappropriate and impractical" to close the entire border.

The threat of strike action comes as Hong Kong residents have been scouring shops for face masks and joining long queues as supplies dwindle.

Mr Berry So had queued up from 2am outside one shop. "I have been waiting six to seven hours," said the waiter, who failed to get a mask. - REUTERS

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