Now he’s spending his time in isolation, drafting statements and petitions calling for a medical strike. More than 6,500 nurses and doctors have already pledged to strike unless the government meets their demands, foremost of which is the complete closure of all 14 border control points with mainland China in order to stem the coronavirus outbreak. On Tuesday (Jan. 28), Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam ordered a partial closure of the border, but the measure was widely panned as ineffective because only about 10% of mainland Chinese visitors come through the ports of entry being shut.

To many, the Hong Kong government appears unable to make its own decisions without first deferring to Beijing. When Lam announced travel restrictions for mainland Chinese visitors this week, it was presented not as Hong Kong barring entry to mainlanders, but as China suspending the issuance of individual tourist visas. When the chief secretary addressed concerns about the shortage of surgical masks, he said he had asked China to allow imports of masks into Hong Kong. And with the government’s continued refusal to close the border with China despite polling showing overwhelming public support for the measure, people are again wondering whether officials truly have the public’s interests at heart. Lam doubled down on her decision at another news conference today, arguing that measures to close the border would “stigmatize” mainland Chinese.

“No one is asking for the border to be closed permanently,” So said. “What we’re asking for is in the interim… there’s a need to very firmly tighten up border controls so that we can limit the number of further imported cases.” And while the government has already banned entry to Hong Kong for people from Hubei province, the outbreak’s epicenter, So says this is “nowhere near enough” as the coronavirus has already spread throughout China. 

Already, some 90 nurses at three hospitals called in sick earlier this week to sound the alarm ahead of the strike.“They were very concerned about the quality of our facilities and that they wouldn’t be able to protect themselves or our patients,” he said of the nurses. But he also understands that calling for medical professionals to strike can be morally fraught. The Hong Kong Public Doctors’ Association, for one, has said it would not take part in the strike.

The Hospital Authority Employees’ Alliance, a newly formed union that grew out of the protest movement and that is organizing the industrial action, will vote tomorrow on whether to go on strike. The continuing resistance movement, So said, has galvanized support for protest actions like strikes.

“The incentive for health care workers to go on strike is very low, there’s a lot of moral baggage we’re carrying,” So said. “But if this is the only way to force the government to take real policy action, then this is what we have to do.” He said that friends and family are also supportive of the strike because “they understand this is the last resort to force the government to take action to stop the outbreak from happening.”

Update: Thousands of non-emergency medical staff are striking on Monday (Feb. 3), after the union voted overwhelmingly on Saturday for a five-day strike following chief executive Carrie Lam’s refusal to attend negotiations with them. Other medical personnel, including those offering emergency services, could join in from Tuesday.

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