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Sunday, January 26, 2020, 12:49
Virus: HK declares emergency, schools to be closed till Feb 17
By Willa Wu & Li Bingcun
Sunday, January 26, 2020, 12:49 By Willa Wu & Li Bingcun

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam (center), accompanied by Secretary for Food & Health Prof Sophia Chan (left) and Gabriel Matthew Leung, dean of the University of Hong Kong's Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine, holds a press conference on measures to prevent the spread of novel coronavirus on Jan 25, 2020. (PHOTO / HKSAR GOVERNMENT)

HONG KONG - Hong Kong raised its response level to the novel coronavirus outbreak to "emergency" and will extend school holidays for non-tertiary students to Feb 17.

HKSAR CE Carrie Lam said Hong Kong will also indefinitely halt flights and rail services to Wuhan in central China's Hubei province where the novel coronavirus outbreak started

Announcing this at a press conference, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor also said the city will cancel its largest marathon to help with disease control efforts. 

ALSO READ: Coronavirus: HK confirms 3 more cases, city total now 5

The Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon, originally scheduled for Feb 8 and 9, involves 70,000 people and the government “believes it has to be canceled,” Lam said.

Lam said Hong Kong will also indefinitely halt flights and rail services to Wuhan in central China's Hubei province where the novel coronavirus outbreak started.

The government said those who arrive in Hong Kong via the international airport, the three ports and six immigration checkpoints at the city’s border with Shenzhen, will be required to declare their health conditions in special forms. Those who provide fake information will be liable to attract up to six months’ imprisonment and a fine of HK$5,000.

The CE will lead a steering committee to address the threat and said that the government will spare no efforts or resources in preventing a community outbreak of the disease.

The government will set up four task forces, designated for disease prevention and control, internal coordination, public participation and public information, respectively.

Lam said the date for all secondary schools, elementary schools and kindergartens to start a new semester will be pushed back to Feb 17.

Lam urged Hong Kong people not to visit Hubei province. She said she has called on the State Council for help to keep the city's mask stockpile adequate. Pharmacies across Hong Kong have run out of masks aimed at preventing viral infection, prompting authorities to say more will arrive next week.

READ MORE: Two men in HK test positive for coronavirus 

When asked if locking down Hong Kong would be a viable option to contain the spread of the disease, Gabriel Matthew Leung, dean of the University of Hong Kong’s Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine, who was present at the press conference, replied in the negative. 

He said sealing off a city was neither a proper nor a practical way of addressing the problem and that combating any contagion depended solely on science.

Leung stressed that Hong Kong had never locked down in the past 22 years, no matter an outbreak of infectious disease in the city or on the mainland. He pointed out that till date, the World Health Organization hadn't issued any travel warning with regard to the Chinese mainland.

Lam said the government had cancelled all exchange activities with the mainland. Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung Yun-hung, speaking at the same press conference, announced that school exchange activities will also be suspended for the time being. Yeung said he had asked the city's tertiary education institutions to consider postponing the start date for a new semester.

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