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Strike Threats By Hong Kong Unions for Border Closure to Curb Virus

Trade unions in Hong Kong, including hospital and rail workers, are threatening to go on strike unless the government closes the border with mainland 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 mainland China from midnight on Thursday and all cross-border ferry services, the unions said it was not enough.

 

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 on Saturday to discuss what more action it could take.

 

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.

 

The former British colony has confirmed 10 cases of the coronavirus, with one person in critical condition. The epicentre of the outbreak is the central Chinese city of Wuhan, where it is believed to have jumped to humans from an animal in an illegal wildlife market.

 

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

 

Protesters frustrated by the city government’s refusal to make concessions on demands for full democracy have in recent months formed about 40 unions as a way to press their campaign and at least a dozen of them have come out in support of the HAEA’s proposed strike.

 

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.

 

China’s National Health Commission said on Thursday the total number of confirmed deaths from the coronavirus in the country climbed to 170, as the number of infected patients rose to 7,711.

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