HONG KONG (3rd UPDATE) – Hong Kong on Tuesday, February 4, became the second place outside mainland China to report the death of a novel coronavirus patient as officials said they feared local transmissions were increasing in the densely populated city.
The novel coronavirus has killed more than 425 people in China since spreading from the central city of Wuhan late last year.
It has also spread to more than 25 countries.
Most of the deaths in China have been in Wuhan and the rest of surrounding Hubei province, much of which has been under lockdown for almost two weeks.
But on Tuesday Hong Kong medics confirmed a 39-year-old man being treated for the virus had died.
He was a Hong Kong resident who had travelled last month to Wuhan, returning home on January 23 via a high-speed rail link.
Officials said the man also had diabetes, but had been in stable until his condition suddenly deteriorated.
So far the only other reported fatality outside of the Chinese mainland has been in the Philippines.
News of the fatality broke as a strike by Hong Kong medical workers protesting against the government’s response to the crisis entered its second day, with hospital authorities saying some 4,400 staff were absent – including around 360 doctors and 2,500 nurses.
The authority said the strike was having a “serious impact.”
Border crossings closed
Hong Kong now has 17 confirmed infections, the majority people who were infected in mainland China.
But 4 cases are suspected to be local transmissions, including two people confirmed on Tuesday afternoon who have no history of recent travel to the mainland.
Chuang Shuk-kwan, from Hong Kong’s Centre for Health Protection, said the local transmissions were a cause for concern as it could suggest the city’s outbreak was becoming self-sustaining.
“We can’t rule out the possibility that there will be massive transmission in the near future. So the next 14 days are very critical,” he told reporters.
On Monday, February 3, Hong Kong’s leader announced the closure of all but two land border crossings to mainland China in a bid to halt the spread.
There has been growing public anger over the government’s response to the outbreak, with calls to seal the border entirely – including barring mainlanders from flying into the international airport.
There is also an acute shortage of masks, with long lines forming very morning outside pharmacies and other outlets for limited stocks.
While Hong Kong maintains close economic and cultural links to the Chinese mainland, a seething distrust of the authorities in Beijing permeates the city.
The 2003 outbreak of the SARS virus, which Beijing initially covered up, killed almost 300 people in Hong Kong and left lasting psychological scars on the densely populated city.
Distrust – and at times open hostility – towards mainlanders has been worsened by years of political unrest as Hong Kongers chafe under Beijing’s rule, and protest for greater democratic freedoms. – Rappler.com