- Pledge comes after newspaper decries official response and announces plans to charter its own rescue plane
Hopes were raised on Saturday for needy Hongkongers stranded in the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak as the government said it was willing to look into ways to get them home, after a newspaper decried the official response and announced plans to charter its own rescue plane.
The move to get city residents out of mainland China's Hubei province " where the contagion began late last year " also followed lobbying by a pro-democracy legislator.
"We are actively following up with related government departments and health experts to set up feasible plans to bring back stranded Hong Kong people in Hubei as soon as possible, especially groups with special needs, in batches," a government spokesman said on Saturday.
"We welcome and thank people from society for bringing up useful advice and expressing their willingness to assist."
Oriental Press Group, owner of one of the city's main Chinese-language newspapers Oriental Daily News, used a front-page article to say it was willing to charter a flight to bring back a Hong Kong woman who was 30 weeks pregnant, as well as local elderly people and children.
"The pregnant Hong Kong woman contacted the government a week ago, but the government has no reply," the newspaper said, lambasting what it said was a lack of an official plan to bring back more than 2,500 Hongkongers stranded in Hubei, which has been in lockdown since the outbreak of the virus, which causes Covid-19.
The woman had said she dared not go to a Hubei hospital for a check-up, fearing infection.
Lawmaker James To Kun-sun said the woman, due to give birth in mid-April, sought help from him this week as the government had not responded to her requests to come home.
"The case is urgent because she is giving birth very soon," To, of the Democratic Party, said. "I believe there are several expectant Hong Kong mothers stranded in Hubei. I hope the government can prioritise these cases."
Oriental Press Group released another article online on Saturday evening, urging the government to cooperate with its arrangement.
"The group is contacting Donghai Airlines in Shenzhen to discuss sending a chartered flight to Hubei to bring back Hongkongers," the article read, adding that it would also prepare milk powder, medicine and doctors for any passengers in need on the plane.
Hubei residents banned from leaving homes under tough new virus curbs
In the article, the group said it was considering sending either a business jet for about 10 passengers including the pregnant woman, elderly people and children, or a commercial aircraft with a capacity of nearly 200, to take more Hongkongers.
The group said the government replied without giving a specific stance on its offer.
A spokesman for the Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau said that by Saturday it had received more than 1,400 requests for assistance involving about 2,700 Hongkongers in Hubei.
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