Hong Kong's leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has declared the impact of the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak to be of the highest emergency response level, raising it from the previous status of "serious".
She will personally chair an interdepartmental steering committee, that will hope to issue strategic and other measures as soon as practicable, she said at a press conference on Saturday afternoon, hours after she returned to the city from a week's visit to Davos, Switzerland for the World Economic Forum.
She also announced health declaration requirements would be extended to all entry points into Hong Kong, including the border crossings at Lo Wu and Lok Ma Chau.
"A false declaration will be punishable by 6 months in prison or a fine of HK$5,000," Lam said.
She said the government would also look to impose temperature checks for outgoing travellers, with priority given to those heading to Shenzhen and Macau.
The Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon, scheduled for February 9, will be cancelled, with about 70,000 participants affected, Lam said.
Lam also confirmed an earlier Post report that Hong Kong pupils and students would get two more weeks of holiday during the Lunar New Year amid the widening threat of an outbreak from the new Wuhan coronavirus.
Most kindergarten, primary and secondary schools in the city were supposed to return on February 3, but the extension means they will now not return until February 17.
As of Friday, five confirmed cases of the coronavirus infection had been identified in Hong Kong. All patients had been to Wuhan, the epicentre in mainland China.
Critics argued the administration was slow to stop infected mainland Chinese travellers from entering the border. Four out of five patients confirmed with the new virus arrived by high-speed rail, where a form asking travellers to declare their health was only imposed on Thursday.
Meanwhile, Macau officials announced on Friday morning that the Lunar New Year holiday should be extended by a week for all schools except higher institutions until February 10, as it also urged private institutions to follow similar arrangements. Some 10 higher education institutions also said they would extend the holiday until February 11.
Top microbiologist Yuen Kwok-yung of the University of Hong Kong on Saturday warned the new coronavirus could be highly infectious and this was Hong Kong's last window to stop the outbreak from the border.
"Hong Kong or Macau or other world cities could easily become another Wuhan or another 2003 Hong Kong," Yuen said in an online message, referring to the SARS outbreak in 2003 that killed 200 people, including eight medical staff.
Pro-democracy camp lawmakers and medical sector legislator Pierre Chan Pui-yin had earlier urged the government to stop traffic to and from Wuhan.
According to the MTR Corporation, two high-speed trains a day " one coming from Beijing and one from Tianjin " would pass through Wuhan on their way to Hong Kong via Shenzhen.
The railway giant said on Thursday the trains would stop only to allow passengers to get off.
There had also been no flights from Wuhan to Hong Kong since the mainland city was put on a lockdown on Thursday morning.
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