Hong Kong, China – Minnie Li has thrown herself into Hong Kong’s protest movement for the past few years, even joining a hunger strike last summer.
But these days the Shanghai native and university lecturer is greeted with flyers warning that mainland Chinese like her are not welcome – all in the name of shielding residents from potential coronavirus carriers from the mainland.
“I don’t feel hurt,” said Li. “I see this as the ‘cross-infection’ of politics in the current outbreak.”
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The coronavirus that emerged in central China in late December 2019 has ravaged the mainland, killing more than 1,100 people and infecting 45,000 others. Since Hong Kong confirmed its first case on January 22, there have been 49 reported cases and one death in the semi-autonomous territory.
The outbreak in Hong Kong comes right on the heels of seven months of anti-government protests, triggered in June last year by a now-abandoned extradition bill that would have allowed suspects to be sent for trial on the mainland.
The scale of the protests revealed increasing concern that Hong Kong’s freedoms – guaranteed under the “one country, two systems” framework governing the territory’s transition from British to Chinese rule in 1997 – was being undermined; a view only reinforced by the Hong Kong government’s slow response to public anger over the extradition bill and its reliance on the police to address the unrest.
That outrage has increased since the new viral outbreak, with Hong Kong residents complaining about officials’ failure to prepare for a protracted epidemic and ensure adequate medical supplies. Last week, public hospital employees went on strike to try and force the authorities to close all border crossings with the mainland.
Staff from Hong Kong’s Hospital Authority went on strike this month to demand the government close all borders with the mainland to contain the coronavirus [Jerome Favre/EPA]
Some observers say the coronavirus outbreak has opened a new front in the campaign against perceived interference from the mainland in Hong Kong’s internal affairs.
“The outbreak comes just when protesters have increasingly turned from mass mobilisation to everyday resistance,” said Edmund Cheng, a political scientist at City University of Hong Kong who specialises in social movements. “They condemn the government as failing to protect the public’s wellbeing so they see fit to take it upon themselves to act.”
Despite the protesters clamouring to completely seal the border, two crossings remain open, although visitors from the mainland are now required to go into a 14-day quarantine.