Face off: Should Hong Kong ban the entry of all visitors from the mainland amid the coronavirus outbreak?

Face off: Should Hong Kong ban the entry of all visitors from the mainland amid the coronavirus outbreak?

Each week, two of our readers debate a hot topic in a parliamentary-style debate that doesn’t necessarily reflect their personal viewpoint. This week …

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Medical health workers on strike at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Yau Ma Tei, in demand for a full closure of the border with mainland China amidst the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak.
Photo: SCMP / Nora Tam

Cheang Kai U, 17, Macau Anglican College

Banning all visitors from the mainland is the best way to contain the fast-spreading virus. Not only would it keep people safe, it would significantly reduce the strain on Hong Kong’s medical sector.

Firstly, stopping mainland visitors from entering minimises the number of potential carriers of the virus, thereby reducing the chances of the virus spreading. Shenzhen and Guangzhou are both megacities that are geographically close to Hong Kong and are linked to other mainland cities via high-speed rail and planes. Many mainlanders could come into contact with virus carriers through this extensive transport network. 

Secondly, banning visitors also has the added benefit of cutting down the manpower and equipment needed to screen visitors entering Hong Kong, making this is the most cost-effective and straightforward way of preventing the spread of the disease.

If the disease were to spread because of an inability to prevent carriers from entering, Hong Kong would simply not have sufficient medical equipment or staff to deal with the situation. Shifts would have to be organised, other emergency services may be halted. 

Supplies of face masks and other protective gear, which are already low, would need to be increased dramatically. Medical staff would also need to be quarantined somewhere to prevent them spreading the virus to their families, should they contract it themselves. 

Right now, Hong Kong doctors are risking their lives to perform their duty and save as many patients as possible. The government should not make their job harder than it already is by allowing large numbers of people to enter Hong Kong. 

Curbing the number of mainland visitors is only logical. Containing the disease this way means we can imagine a best-case scenario, rather than a worst-case one.  

Hong Kong should not worry about short-term economic loss caused by reducing the number of visitors, as this will only become a long-term economic loss if the number of coronavirus cases increases. Tougher action and stricter measures should not be saved as last resorts. Let’s avoid having to say “Hong Kong did too little, too late”.

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Karl Lam, 18, German Swiss International School

With 15 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Hong Kong as of yesterday, there is no doubt that this public health crisis should be taken seriously. Currently, Hong Kong is blocking entry to anyone who has been to Hubei province in the past 14 days, in an effort to contain the virus. However, it may not be in the best interest of the local workforce to ban all visitors from the mainland. 

Travel agencies, airlines and local businesses will be severely hurt by this drastic measure. They have already had to endure months of protests and social unrest, and now, thanks to the coronavirus outbreak, many workers are facing yet more uncertainty and unemployment. 

For example, one Hong Kong-based agency, the Taiwan Good Travel Company, has not arranged a single trip since mid-July. Before the protests, bus drivers could earn more than HK$25,000 a month. However, between June and October last year, that dropped to a basic monthly salary of HK$7,000, and now it’s highly likely that the coronavirus outbreak could also seriously affect their pay packets. 

While the health of our citizens is certainly important, their economic welfare, especially those working in industries likely to be hit by the epidemic, is something the government must also consider when deciding wether to ban visitors from the mainland. A blanket ban of all visitors from China would not be well-received by many businesses and might cause even more social unrest or public mistrust in the long-run, which is the last thing we need. 

The downturn in Hong Kong’s economy has caused the workforce to become disheartened. Banning visitors and travellers from mainland China will only make the lives of those working in the travel industry more difficult. 

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