HK extends black travel warning to 3 more regions
Martin Wong, Adrian Wan and Simpson Cheung
The Hong Kong government last night extended the black travel warning to three more regions of Japan surrounding Fukushima.
The highest travel warning means people should avoid all travel to Miyagi, Ibaraki and Iwate, as well as Fukushima. The red travel warning - which advises against non-essential travel - is in force for the rest of Japan.
The move is largely in line with travel advisories from many countries, but it still drew criticism from some lawmakers.
Undersecretary for security Lai Tung-kwok said yesterday the government's decision was made after consulting nuclear experts and Japanese officials.
'The black travel warning is, in fact, covering an extensive area, much wider than the area that might be affected by any dispersal of nuclear material, which is 20 kilometres,' he said.
Japanese authorities had so far cordoned off only areas within 30 kilometres of the stricken nuclear plant in Fukushima, he said.
Lai said the warning was in line with those given by countries such as Australia, Britain and Canada, as well as the mainland.
Hongkongers are included in Beijing's plan to evacuate Chinese nationals from Miyagi, Ibaraki, Iwate and Fukushima.
'It is a voluntary arrangement and Hong Kong people in these four areas can contact the [Chinese] embassy and appropriate assistance would be offered,' Lai said.
As of 10.30 last night, more than 300 people had gathered at an evacuation point in Sendai set up by the Chinese embassy. At least one was from Hong Kong. They had set off to the airport on buses. China's consulate-general in Niigata, southwest of the area affected by the earthquake and nuclear emergency, had received more than 1,000 people, who were waiting for flights home.
But Legislative Council security panel chairman James To Kun-sun said the black travel warning should be extended further.
'It is very unreasonable. When Hongkongers travel to Japan, many will go to Tokyo,' he said. 'For the sake of safety, why doesn't the government issue a black travel alert to [cover] the city?'
Lawmaker Paul Tse Wai-chun, who represents the tourism sector, thought the black travel warning should extend to all of Japan.
'There is not only the earthquake and tsunami, but also radiation, which can be spread by wind and rain ... the affected areas will expand and the result could be disastrous,' Tse said, adding that the government should not put citizens' lives at risk. Since other areas of Japan were only under a red travel warning, Tse said agencies had to decide whether to continue tours or cancel them and refund clients.
Only a black travel warning guarantees a refund.
But Lai said Tokyo was still safe. 'The latest information that we have received is that the situation in Tokyo is normal and the city is more than 200 kilometres from the [nuclear] plant,' he said. 'We have to observe objective data and evidence. If the situation later needs us to change the warning, we will take the appropriate action.'
More Hong Kong students were rushing home due to radiation fears.
Rebecca Lee, who has been teaching English for three months in Hamamatsu, 600 kilometres from Fukushima, said she was leaving because of concerns from her family. 'People here are very calm indeed,' she said, but she was a little frightened.
Another Hong Kong student, Ricky Wong, who had been studying in Japan for two years, said he would leave because his parents were concerned about his being exposed to radiation. A total of 32 Hong Kong people were still missing across Japan.
Amid rumours that international companies were evacuating staff, the International Bankers Association said major foreign financial institutions, including Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Barclays and Citigroup had reaffirmed their plan to continue operations 'as usual'.
Standard Chartered, Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu and HSBC had told employees to work from home.
Peter Wong Tung-shun, HSBC's Asia-Pacific chief executive, said the bank had several hundreds workers in Tokyo and that all were safe.
The Trade Development Council's office in Tokyo with 13 workers had closed following the quake. 'We are closely monitoring the radiation situation,' a council spokesman said.
This many Hongkongers remained unaccounted for in Japan last night after Friday's earthquake: 32