- Chun Yeung Estate was site of earlier protests from residents objecting to it being made quarantine centre
- Chief executive says there are no other options available to house returning residents
A public housing estate in Hong Kong that has been the site of coronavirus protests in the city is the only place the government can use to quarantine residents evacuated from a cruise ship in Japan, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said on Thursday.
Police have already been sent to guard the newly built Chun Yeung Estate in Fo Tan, the city's leader said, and added there was no other choice.
Speaking before her weekly Executive Council meeting Lam said Hong Kong could not afford "not having the centre", and that she would not let it be damaged.
"We could not afford this centre to be vandalised or destroyed by rioters," she said. "We will do all we can to protect this estate."
Passengers have been stuck on the Diamond Princess in Yokohama since February 4, and the 350 Hongkongers on board are expected to be flown home on Thursday. They will then be placed in a 14-day mandatory quarantine.
Fo Tan residents have previously objected to the new public rental housing development being designated a quarantine centre, as have those waiting for one of the 4,846 flats, 4,000 of which have already been allocated.
But Lam said experts were of the view that returning passengers would pose a health risk to the public, and one of the city's top microbiologists has said as many as 100 of those coming back could be infected.
The government has previously said that four other quarantine centres, with around 150 places, are nearly full. Last Friday, Lam said a special allowance of HK$6,000 would be given to families affected by the move.
Of the 3,700 passengers and crew on board, 454 have tested positive for the virus, which causes the Covid-19 disease. Of those infected, 21 are Hongkongers.
Dr Ho Pak-leung, of the University of Hong Kong, said the government should explain the threat of infection to the passengers, given the opposition some had expressed to the mandatory quarantine.
"They should be told that they are returning from an infected area, and that the infection rate on the cruise is even higher than in the epidemic centre in Wuhan," he said.
Taking the infection rate on board the ship as reference point, Ho said it was possible that about 100 out of the 350 Hongkongers returning from Japan would have been infected.
"(The government should ) consider their emotions and psychological status, and explain in detail why they have to be quarantined after returning," he said. "Hospitals should also get ready with medicine."
On Monday, Secretary of Security John Lee Ka-chiu said that once Japanese authorities confirmed the Hong Kong travellers were not infected, they would be taken to Haneda Airport in Tokyo for further checks, before returning to Hong Kong.
Cathay Pacific has confirmed that two chartered flights would be there to bring Hongkongers back on Thursday.
Lam said on Tuesday that 50 officials would be in Japan overseeing the evacuation, adding they would continue to reach out to the 10 Hong Kong residents on the ship who have not been in touch with the government.
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