The Hong Kong government is planning to fly home about 5,200 of its citizens scattered across India or Pakistan after earlier repatriating its people from Wuhan and Hubei province in China, the epicenter of the Covid-19 plague.
The government has to weigh up the epidemic situation in South Asia and tread carefully, with an emphasis on not overwhelming the city’s quarantine, testing and healthcare systems. Hong Kong is still reeling from a previous upswing in imported cases from Europe and North America.
The plan to bring home this many people makes it one of the largest evacuation missions to be conducted by a country or territory since the outbreak of the virus in Wuhan spiraled into a world-engulfing pandemic.
Hong Kong has managed to squash the spike in new infections among those returning from overseas, with its totally of cases standing at 1,038 as of Tuesday, with no fresh infections reported for three days in a row.
And, with only four deaths among the infected, the city’s morality rate is even lower than those in Taiwan and New Zealand, whose efforts to curb the viral spread are seen as instructive for the rest of the world.
Hong Kong officials also stress that flying people back to the city would be carried out in stages, taking stock of the capacity of the city’s hospitals and quarantine camps. Hong Kong is chalking it up to experience as its sister city of Singapore is mired in snowballing local outbreaks. In Singapore, dormitories for imported labor, mostly from India, have been crawling with the highly contagious virus, with the total count of cases about to hit 15,000.
India’s confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus is also edging closer to 30,000, while Pakistan’s reported figure is 14,079.
Yet Hong Kong’s officials have already been crucified for prioritizing the rescue operation of its citizens in Wuhan, while ignoring pleas from those unable to leave India or Pakistan.
Some critics even allege that the way the government triaged its resources and evacuation operations smacks of racism and discrimination, as most of those waiting to be flown home from India or Pakistan are ethnic minority people born in Hong Kong or the offsprings of immigrants from the two South Asian nations.
Hong Kong’s Immigration Department noted on Monday that it had contacted 3,200 citizens in India and 2,000 in Pakistan, and had discussions with Cathay Pacific, Air India and Pakistan International Airlines (PIA).
The bureau said the priority would be given to children, pregnant women, the elderly and patients who need immediate medical attention, as well as those in or near New Delhi and Islamabad.
But unlike the Wuhan evacuations, each passenger would have to pay the expenses themselves, with at least HK$7,000 (US$900) for a ticket out of Pakistan and HK$10,000 for a ticket from India.