February 6, 2020 / 4:26 AM / 16 days ago

Hong Kong checks quarantined ship for virus as medical workers escalate strikes

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Hong Kong authorities quarantined a cruise ship for a second day on Thursday as they checked thousands of passengers and crew for the new coronavirus, forbidding anyone from disembarking to prevent further spreading of the epidemic.

A government officer gets on a Department of Health ship before it heads to the Kai Tak Cruise Terminal, where the World Dream ship that had been denied entry in Taiwan's Kaohsiung amid concerns of coronavirus infection on board is docked, in Hong Kong, China February 5, 2020. REUTERS/Jessie Pang

Authorities said 33 crew members on the World Dream had developed respiratory tract infection symptoms and three had been sent to a hospital for isolation and management after developing fevers.

All but one of the 33 tested negative for the disease, with the remaining test pending, the city’s health department said in a statement late on Wednesday.

It was not clear how long the 1,800 passengers and a similar number of staff would remain on board for.

The cruise ship, operated by Dream Cruises, docked in Hong Kong after it was denied entry to the Taiwan port of Kaohsiung on Tuesday. Authorities have now suspended Hong Kong’s two cruise terminals.

The former British colony saw its first death from the virus on Tuesday. It has confirmed 21 cases, with many recent cases transmitted locally, authorities said.

The government has imposed a mandatory two week quarantine period for anyone entering the Asian financial hub from the Chinese mainland.

Thousands of medical workers have joined striking union members to call on the government to fully seal the border, something leader Carrie Lam has so far rejected as inappropriate, impractical and discriminatory.

The city’s Hospital Authority said on Thursday emergency services would be severely hampered due to the large number of absent staff.

The Hospital Authority Employees Alliance (HAEA) union questioned the government’s plans to adequately quarantine people due to the large numbers still entering Hong Kong from the mainland.

“The HAEA expresses the highest level of doubt on whether Hong Kong has the ability to care for such a large number of people under mandatory quarantine when we are already dealing with severe shortage of resources and the depletion of surgical masks in our community.”

Separately, panicked residents, reacting to online rumours about basic supplies being curtailed, hit supermarkets in droves to buy toilet rolls and hygiene products overnight. Fears over the virus have seen shelves cleared of basic essentials for much of the past week.

Additional reporting by Jessie Pang Writing by Farah Master; Editing by Lincoln Feast.

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