Radiation scans greet returning journalists

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 15 March, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 15 March, 2011, 12:00am

Government officials in full bio-hazard gear stood by on the airport runway last night, waiting to greet returning local journalists.

Buses lined up to act as decontanimation units for the 24 journalists who were scanned for radiation on their arrival in Hong Kong on four different flights last night after covering the earthquake, tsunami and Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster in Japan.

The journalists were told about the inspections while in flight and as soon as their planes landed they were met by health officials wearing spacesuit-like protective clothing, and told to board the buses. Other passengers were not required to do so and were told to wait on the flight. Reporters had their hands, legs and bodies scanned and were asked if they had been to any places where they might have been exposed to radiation. The whole process lasted for about 20 minutes.

They later rejoined the other passengers on another bus and were driven to the airport terminals.

A government spokesman said the tests were conducted at the request of media organisations and no-one was found to be contaminated.

Some passengers on one flight carrying 12 local journalists expressed concern over why reporters - uncertain if they were contaminated - were allowed to board the plane.

A flight attendant said she only received a message from ground staff that the flight was carrying the journalists when the plane was in mid-air. 'If we had known beforehand it would have been better to do the checking before allowing them to board the plane,' she said. 'It would be easier to remedy [in case someone is really contaminated].'

Secretary for Food and Health Dr York Chow said anyone who was concerned about any radiation danger should visit their local hospitals.

Meanwhile, back in Japan, 25 Hongkongers had still not been located by late yesterday, three days after the disaster. The Hong Kong government said it remained optimistic about finding the people, saying past experience indicated that many of them would be in contact soon.

'The telephone network in Japan has yet to resume normal operation and we hope that these people will be reached when the network services improve,' acting director of Immigration Eric Chan Kwok-ki said.

Among the 25, two were believed to be in Sendai and six in Tokyo or its surrounding areas, according to telephone signals, Chan said. The whereabouts of the rest were unknown.

Tokyo is the most popular travel destination in Japan for Hong Kong people, but now the rotational blackouts, train suspensions and petrol restrictions are making it a not-so-fun place. Tourists and Hongkongers working or studying there are leaving.

'I made a decision to return,' said Bob Lee, a Hongkonger who has been studying Japanese politics at a university in Tokyo for the past three years. He was at Tokyo's Narita International Airport waiting to board a plane back to Hong Kong.

'[My family] were afraid about the explosions, so they wanted me to return,' Lee said. 'I was actually not that scared, but my family called many times since the quake struck.'

He said he would have a medical examination to check for radiation when he got home.

Although admittedly afraid of nuclear leakage, what really drove him crazy were the electricity outages, Lee said. His Tokyo home had been blacked out for hours every day since the quakes. Kiki Wong, who has been studying web design in Tokyo for four years, flew back to Hong Kong yesterday, but vowed to return as she had a new job there and was set to start work on April 1.

Her family, worried about the nuclear plants and the aftershocks, had urged her to return home.

'I haven't slept very well for the past few days, and there were non-stop tremors,' she said.

Immigration director Chan said additional manpower was being deployed to help Hong Kong people in Japan. The hotline (852) 1868 had received 4,131 inquiries and 796 calls for assistance. Many Hong Kong travel agencies decided to cancel package tours to Japan until further notice.

Cathay Pacific Airways extended a special one-way economy class fare of HK$5,755 from Japan to Hong Kong to include seven airports in six cities - Narita and Haneda near Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya, Sapporo, Fukuoka and Okinawa. The special fare would be available until Sunday.