- Fears of infection and anger from months-long anti-government movement spill over into opposition towards designated facilities
- Executive councillor doubles down on assurances to public, lamenting lack of space to bring back stranded Hongkongers on cruise and in Hubei
Hundreds of Hongkongers launched protests in five locations on Sunday against government plans to set up quarantine centres or screening clinics near their estates, amid the coronavirus outbreak in the city.
The demonstrations took place as authorities scrambled to bring back some 2,000 Hongkongers stranded in Hubei province, the epicentre of the Covid-19 crisis, as well as 330 residents on board the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan.
Passengers have been stuck on the vessel for 11 days, with the number of infections rising.
Protesters in Kwai Chung, Cheung Sha Wan, Sai Kung, Fo Tan and Kowloon Bay said on Sunday they understood the need for the extra facilities as the number of suspected and confirmed infections in the city continued to rise. But they argued that these should be in areas far from residential estates.
As of Sunday evening, Hong Kong had recorded 57 confirmed Covid-19 cases, including one related fatality.
In Kwai Chung, hundreds of protesters marched in the morning from a school to the South Kwai Chung Jockey Club General Outpatient Clinic, designated as a facility to treat patients with mild fever and respiratory illnesses.
Participant Ada Chan, who has lived on the Kwai Luen Estate near the clinic for eight years, said she was worried about the potential health risk, with her neighbourhood just a stone's throw from the clinic.
"It's just a street away. There're also many secondary and primary school students in the area," the 40-year-old said.
"There are plenty of places elsewhere, why can't the government find another site?"
During the severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) epidemic of 2003, which killed 299 people in the city, the same clinic was also designated for similar uses " to screen close contacts of infected patients.
But protester Wing Chan, another resident, said the situation now was different from Sars as her estate was not built until 2011.
Democratic Party lawmaker Andrew Wan Siu-kin, who co-organised the march, said it was an "extremely inappropriate decision" to set up the clinic there, because there were 100,000 residents living nearby.
"Is the government out of its mind?" he said.
Kwai Tsing district councillor Ng Kim-sing said the government should instead consider setting up a temporary clinic at the site of the abandoned Kwai Chung Public School.
In Cheung Sha Wan, angry groups lashed out against the plan to turn the Cheung Sha Wan Jockey Club General Outpatient Clinic into a designated centre. Some waved flags supporting Hong Kong independence, while others held the American flag.
Participants chanted slogans from the months-long anti-government movement, such as "Liberate Hong Kong; Revolution of our times".
Sham Shui Po District Council member Kalvin Ho Kai-ming slammed the government for not consulting residents.
Meanwhile, in Sai Kung, dozens gathered at the Waterfront Park to protest against the Sai Kung Outdoor Recreation Centre being used as a quarantine centre.
Over at Fo Tan, more than 100 people braved the rain to rally at San Mei Street Playground, decrying the government's plan to use the newly built and unoccupied Chun Yeung Estate as a quarantine centre.
Speaking at the rally, Civic Party lawmaker Alvin Yeung Ngok-kiu said it was unacceptable for the government to only offer a special allowance of HK$6,000 to each household for the delay in letting them move in.
At about 9pm, about 100 protesters launched another march from Richland Gardens to nearby Kai Yip Estate in Kowloon Bay against the proposal to turn Kowloon Bay Health Centre into a designated clinic for screening Covid-19 infections.
At about 10.40pm, riot police broke up a clash between protesters and a male resident of Richland Gardens. Officers used pepper spray against reporters, ordering them to back away from the scuffle.
A blue flag, warning of an illegal assembly, was raised.
Executive councillor Lam Ching-choi assured residents on Sunday that those living near potential quarantine sites faced no risk of infection.
"When patients need to be referred to hospitals for further check-ups, they will be sent by coaches directly from the quarantine centres. There will be no contact with the community," he said.
"If people opposed (all quarantine sites), those stranded in Japan or Wuhan would not be able to return to Hong Kong."
With no announcements made so far on how authorities planned to evacuate those stranded in Hubei province, pro-Beijing party the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong said it met representatives of the central government's liaison office in the city on Friday to convey residents' wishes to return home.
The party, in a statement, quoted the office as saying that they helped the Hong Kong government deliver five batches of drugs for emergency use and medical protective gear to 88 stranded Hong Kong people.
Additional reporting by Natalie Wong
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