Wuhan's coronavirus outbreak will have only a short-term effect on Hong Kong's relationship with the mainland Chinese city, according to members of the business community, who said the strong bonds created by investment and cultural exchange will ultimately prevail.
They also estimated that while as many as 1,000 Hongkongers study, work or live in Wuhan in Hubei province, most would have returned to Hong Kong for the Lunar New Year and would not be affected by the city's lockdown.
On Thursday, acting chief executive Matthew Cheung Kin-chung said there were about 100 Hongkongers stranded in Wuhan, and they could seek help from the local official delegation there, but he could not say how many people had entered Hong Kong from the mainland city.
He said the Education Bureau had urged schools to consider postponing exchange tours with mainland parties, and also asked students and teachers to avoid going to Wuhan.
The Hong Kong government closed its Economic and Trade Office in Wuhan on Thursday, citing the suspension of public transport in the mainland city.
"(The office) will also be closed during the Lunar New Year holiday and rest days from January 24 to 30," the office said on its website. "The service will resume on January 31. For Hong Kong residents in Wuhan who need urgent help, please call the Immigration Department's 24-hour hotline on (852) 1868.
But the Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau, which oversees the operation of the Wuhan office, later clarified that the office would stay in close contact with any Hong Kong resident in need.
The office's immigration unit could be reached through a mobile phone number, but had yet to receive any requests for help.
Posting on Facebook, Hong Kong's mainland affairs chief Patrick Nip Tak-kuen said he had contacted the office's director Vincent Fung Hao-yin, and three other Hong Kong officials.
"They cancelled their plans to return to Hong Kong and will remain on standby in Wuhan in case any Hongkongers need help," Nip wrote.
The Hong Kong government has four other offices in mainland China - in Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu and Guangzhou.
Irons Sze Wing-wai, honorary president of the Chinese Manufacturers' Association of Hong Kong, said his company's project in Wuhan had been hit by the outbreak.
"We are building an office tower, but we had to let the construction workers go home a few days early because the logistics would be affected anyway," he said. "We don't know when the project is going to resume."
Hong Kong businessman Johnny Yu Wah-yung, who is a member of the standing committee of the Hubei provincial Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, estimated that hundreds of Hongkongers were working or studying in Wuhan, but most had returned to Hong Kong.
Shi Meng, 31, a senior member of the Federation of Hong Kong Hubei Associations, said ties between the two cities were close and he estimated that thousands of Wuhan citizens worked or studied in Hong Kong.
"This relationship will inevitably be affected until the situation becomes stable," said Shi, who was born in the city of Xiangyang in northern Hubei and moved to Hong Kong in 2011.
Shi also said he had planned to return to Wuhan with his wife and two young boys on Thursday morning to visit their families in Hubei. But they decided to cancel the trip because of the outbreak.
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