Environment & Health Hong Kong Politics & Protest

‘Limited weapons to fight an endless war’: Hong Kong medics strike for third day over coronavirus border closure

Hong Kong medics went on strike for a third day on Wednesday after failing to enter into negotiations with Chief Executive Carrie Lam over closing the border with China.

Public healthcare workers had urged the leader to meet with the Hospital Authority Employees Alliance’s (HAEA) representatives by 10am to discuss sealing off three remaining border crossings amid the spread of a new coronavirus.

Medics on strike holding placard

Medics on strike holding placard. Photo: Jimmy Lam/United Social Press

There have been over 24,619 confirmed cases of new infections worldwide and over 493 deaths, including one in Hong Kong. The novel virus was first detected in Wuhan, China, and resembles the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which killed more than 300 people in Hong Kong in 2003.

Thousands of medics marched to the Chief Executive’s office urging the government to close all border crossings, distribute masks to the public, protect strikers from reprisal, provide adequate protection and supplies for frontline medics including isolation wards.

‘Arbitrary’ guidelines

Mr Chan, a 30-year-old registered nurse, told HKFP that there was a shortage of personal protective equipment provided by the Hospital Authority: “We have limited weapons to fight an endless war,” he said. “Our frontline colleagues are attempting to minimise replacing personal protective equipment.”

Mr Chan, HA registered nurse

Mr Chan, Hospital Authority registered nurse on strike. Photo: Rachel Wong/HKFP

Chan said Hospital Authority protocol on the virus was unclear and lacked standardisation: “Sometimes medics who have been in close contact with patients infected [with the virus] are quarantined,” he said. “Sometimes supervisors say medics who have been in contact with those diagnosed do not need to be isolated. It is all so arbitrary.”

Mr Leung, a 57-year-old pathology technologist who has worked for the Hospital Authority for more than 30 years, told HKFP his microbiology laboratory colleagues were supportive of the strike: “We have received many blood samples every day since the coronavirus outbreak,” he said. “Maybe this is why we have this sense of urgency.”

Mr Leung, pathology laboratory technologist

Mr Leung, a technologist at a pathology laboratory. Photo: Rachel Wong/HKFP

“The chance of a government concession is very slim, but I hope that this week will serve as the first wave of industrial actions,” Leung said. “The HAEA has been a catalyst to more and more unions from different sectors forming this week.”

“Nurses on strike are giving the government the most pressure. Staff in back-office like me do not affect a hospital’s normal operation that much,” he added. “I am nearly at retirement age and [participating in the strike] is my contribution to making a difference for youngsters, as well as the city.”

Ms Luk and Ms Chan, specialist medical practitioners in their thirties, told HKFP they will continue to strike until the government respond to the HAEA’s demands.

Ms Luk and Ms Chan, specialized medical practitioners

Ms Luk and Ms Chan, specialist medical practitioners on strike. Photo: Rachel Wong/HKFP

“With a comprehensive plan and a legitimate labour union, I think this week has been more successful than the political strike last year,” Luk said, in reference to a citywide pro-democracy strike last year. 

Winnie Yu, Chairperson of HAEA told HKFP that the group has recruited more than 9,000 members over the past two months, amounting to nearly 10 per cent of Hospital Authority staff.

She said that HAEA members including herself have received emails from the Hospital Authority saying that the industrial action was not approved: “We have sought legal advice and a motion to strike was passed at the extraordinary general meeting [on Saturday]. Participating members are in compliance with the law,” she said.

Winnie Yu, chairperson of HAEA

Winnie Yu, chairperson of HAEA, at the strike at the Chief Executive’s office. Photo: Jimmy Lam/United Social Press.

By 4pm on Wednesday, 5,000 members had signed up for the strike, according to an HAEA Facebook post.

Yu handed a representative from the Chief Executive’s office a petition letter from the union.

Lam on Tuesday urged strikers to return to their duties, saying that the government’s decision to close most cross-border checkpoints was not related to the industrial action.

She announced a mandatory 14-day quarantine of all mainland Chinese visitors into Hong Kong the day after.

Winnie Yu hands petition to representative of CE office

Winnie Yu hands petition to a representative of the Chief Executive’s office. Photo: Jimmy Lam/United Social Press.

Lawmaker Kwok Ka-ki, who is also a medical doctor, told reporters that Lam had been manipulative by associating the strike with the suspension of neonatal ICU services.

“It is infuriating how Lam selectively used this example to emotionally blackmail Hongkongers,” he said. “Has she ever been considerate to medics during her term? No.”

'Limited weapons to fight an endless war': Hong Kong medics strike for third day over coronavirus border closure