- John Lee says many countries are facing similar problems due to lockdown and officials need to consider multiple factors before offering assistance
- The city government is relying on Chinese embassies overseas to help the residents
More than 1,200 Hong Kong residents stranded in over 62 countries amid coronavirus lockdown have sought help from the government, the city' security minister revealed on Thursday.
John Lee Ka-chiu said many countries faced similar problems and officials needed to consider a lot of factors before rendering possible assistance.
The Covid-19 pandemic has spread across much of the world, with more than 1.5 million confirmed cases. About 88,000 people have died from the disease. Many places, such as India, France, Italy, New Zealand and Britain have implemented restrictive mass quarantines.
Speaking at the Legislative Council, Lee said Hong Kong immigration officers would try their best to help residents stranded abroad, such as by providing daily necessities and medication. He added that they were largely reliant on Chinese embassies overseas to help the residents in trouble, as the diplomatic offices had better knowledge of local situations.
Citing the case of Morocco as an example, Lee said officials had contacted nine airlines but none agreed to help with chartering flights to Hong Kong.
"Many countries have imposed strict transport and aviation controls. Some places have rolled out curfews and cannot be reached by any transport," Lee told lawmakers.
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"Like in many other administrations, the staff from the Immigration Department and embassies are facing a lot of difficulties and uncertainties when rendering assistance."
On Wednesday night, the government announced that 27 Hong Kong residents who were stranded in Morocco could catch a chartered flight to Guangzhou in mainland China. The flight was arranged by the Chinese embassy in Morocco and aimed to repatriate all Chinese citizens. The cost of the journey would be borne by the passengers.
The authorities had received assistance requests from 158 Hongkongers stranded in Morocco. Among them, 113 people had already returned to the city on various flights.
Last month, the Hong Kong government issued a red outbound travel alert for all places worldwide " except the mainland, Macau and Taiwan " as the virus swept across the globe.
Members of the public are strongly urged to adjust their travel plans and avoid any non-essential travel outside Hong Kong as many countries have implemented quarantine measures.
Since February, the authorities have sent chartered flights to pick up residents stranded in Japan, the mainland and Peru.
The first four chartered flights to bring 469 Hongkongers back from the mainland's Hubei province, the original epicentre of the pandemic, cost taxpayers about HK$7.4 million (US$955,000).
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In late March, another 558 Hongkongers returned to the city from Hubei on four more chartered flights. The government was yet to reveal the costs for the second round of Hubei flights, or the costs involved in quarantining the evacuees.
Separately, police earlier said they would conduct more large-scale drills with other government departments and map out policies to raise readiness for home-grown terrorism. Lee said at the legislature on Thursday that if there was a chance, he would let members of the public take part in the drill so they could understand better how to react and protect themselves in violent situations, such as a bomb attack.
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