As the number of cases – and fears – over the Wuhan coronavirus rises, healthcare workers are calling for a closure of the border with China to reduce the spread of the disease in Hong Kong.
Effective today, Monday 3 February, 3000 medical workers in non-emergency services at public hospitals have kicked off a five-day strike in a bid to stop all mainlanders from entering Hong Kong and curb the spread of the virus in the city.
Late last week, more than 500 frontline doctors, nurses and healthcare professionals in Hong Kong public hospitals have threatened strike action, demanding immediate action to close the city’s borders with mainland China, citing a “dangerous working environment” due to the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak that is putting their lives and those of the patients at risk.
Calls to close the border began to gather momentum last Wednesday when 90 nurses in Hong Kong took protest sick leave.
“Our colleagues are not afraid of death. It’s not because we don’t want to treat patients. But the government is not doing its best as a gatekeeper. It just allows mainlanders to carry the virus into Hong Kong,” a nurse, who wishes to remain anonymous, told The Standard.
Medical staff from Queen Mary, Grantham, Fung Yiu King and Tung Wah hospitals said that measures were necessary to “curb the perverse incentive” for non-residents to come to Hong Kong for medical care at this critical time.
They have threatened strike beginning as early as 3 February if their demands were ignored, it was reported in the SCMP.
More than 400 healthcare workers put their names to an open letter, raising their concerns.
“Seventeen years ago, when the spectre of SARS hung over Hong Kong, we were caught unaware and had little chance to make adequate provisions before disaster struck,” the letter read.
“This time, we still have a window of opportunity to prevent a catastrophic outbreak that will threaten the lives of more than 7 million Hong Kong residents. The government cannot tarry and must take firm action immediately.”
Benjamin So – a doctor at Queen Mary Hospital and a signatory of the letter – said his colleagues issued the statement because government policy had jeopardised the lives and health of patients and hospital employees.
So claimed that there were unsafe practices by hospital management, such as work rosters that put medical staff in wards designated for patients with the coronavirus infection, then having them return to ordinary wards without adequate time to ensure proper cleansing.
He added that the hospital did not provide accommodation for employees working in isolation wards.