HONG KONG, Feb 15 (Reuters) – Hundreds of anti-government protesters marched in multiple Hong Kong neighbourhoods on Saturday against government plans to potentially turn some buildings into coronavirus quarantine centres, demanding full closure of the mainland China border.
The protests – which escalated in June over a perceived tightening of Beijing’s grip over the city, which Beijing denies – have lost their intensity in recent weeks as panic over the virus kept most people indoors.
But anger has been brewing over Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s refusal to completely shut the border with mainland China, where the new fast-spreading coronavirus is believed to have originated, with some medical staff going on strike and small-scale protests emerging in various locations in support.
On Saturday, hundreds rallied in the northern neighbourhoods of Tai Po and Tin Shui Wai as well as in Aberdeen on the Hong Kong island, chanting “Liberate Hong Kong, Revolution of our times” and “Oppose pneumonia clinic”. Most protesters wore surgical masks and many were dressed in all black.
Some buildings in those neighbourhoods had been designated as potential quarantine sites.
“The government didn’t listen to public demands of a complete border closure, and now they want to set up epidemic clinics in 18 districts. Doing that is like creating more wounds rather than trying to stop the bleeding,” Tin Shui Wai resident Chan Mei-lin said.
Television footage showed police in riot gear making several arrests and using pepper spray in Tin Shui Wai.
Three weeks ago, a group of protesters set alight the lobby of a newly built residential building in Hong Kong that authorities had planned to use as a quarantine facility, prompting the government to abandon the plan.
The government has closed most border points with China and has made quarantine compulsory for anyone coming into the city if they had been in mainland China over the past 14 days.
But Lam has said a full closure was “inappropriate”, “impractical” and “discriminatory”.
Over 1,500 people in mainland China have died from the flu-like virus, which can be transmitted from person to person, while more than 66,000 have so far been infected. In Hong Kong, there have been 56 confirmed cases and one death. (Reporting by Clare Jim and Jessie Pang; Writing by Marius Zaharia; Editing by Himani Sarkar)