A century-old heritage hotel in Lai Chi Kok has been designated by the government as a shelter to quarantine people who have had close contact with patients of the deadly coronavirus after plans for a previous site were dropped amid strong opposition. The move sparked protests as more than 100 residents of the nearby private housing estate, Mei Foo Sun Chuen, gathered on Saturday afternoon, accompanied by local district councillors. The crowd gathered at Mei Foo MTR station at around 4pm before marching to the lodge, demanding the administration choose to place people under quarantine in less densely populated areas. Riot police arrived raised a yellow warning flag and showed that they were carrying pepper spray canisters to residents. Both groups dispersed within an hour without major clashes. The new location was revealed on Friday in a notice issued to guests by Heritage Lodge, a hotel in the heritage cluster of Jao Tsung-I Academy, telling them that the government would use it for “medical purposes”, and asking them to arrange for checkouts. District councillors confirmed the deployment. The 89-room lodge will add to the 90 living spaces provided at the existing three camps – Lady MacLehose Holiday Village; Lei Yue Mun Park and Holiday Village; and Po Leung Kuk Jockey Club Pak Tam Chung Holiday Camp. A spokesman for the Food and Health Bureau said the lodge was suitable for quarantine because it is “perched on a hill and relatively far from residential buildings”. “It is also a facility that can be converted to a quarantine centre the soonest, with its sanitary and ventilation facilities that can fulfil the requirement,” he added, saying staff would ensure quarantined people would not leave the facility and wander the area without permission. The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in mainland China by Saturday morning rose to more than 11,700, with a death toll of over 250, while in Hong Kong, the city’s 13th case was confirmed on Friday evening. The World Health Organisation declared the outbreak a global health emergency on Thursday. Steeped in heritage, the hotel was a former Lai Chi Kok hospital perched on a hillside spanning five historical premises. A reception staff member from the establishment, which has confirmed that officials told them to close down the place from Saturday, could not specify the exact purpose of the shutdown. “We have no dates for reopening, but will arrange refunds for all guests,” the employee said. On its website, the hotel said no rooms were available since Saturday. District councillors said the government informed them that the hotel would be converted into a quarantine centre for people with no symptoms but who were deemed to have had close contact with identified cases. Mei Foo North district councillor, Civic Party’s Joshua Li Chun-hei, said under secretary for food and health Dr Chui Tai-yi only verbally told the Sham Shui Po District Council on Saturday morning of the news after the hotel was forced to close. He quoted Chui as saying that as the holiday camps designated as quarantine centres were two-thirds full in capacity, authorities “needed a few weeks to convert a new site to be ready for use, once the camps are fully occupied”. Li strongly objected to the new location as he said it was only about 100 metres from several residential blocks at Mei Foo Sun Chuen, a large private housing estate. Even with tensions high over a poor response to the outbreak, the government still did not bother to consult people … it clearly hasn’t learned any lessons from the Fai Ming Court incident Joshua Li, Mei Foo North district councillor He and other district councillors in Mei Foo collected 4,500 petitions from residents against the plan and arrange an urgent council meeting next week to follow up on the matter. He also criticised officials for not consulting the council or residents before proceeding with the plan. “Even with tensions at a new high over the government’s poor response to the outbreak, they still did not bother to consult people. The government clearly hasn’t learned any lessons from the Fai Ming Court incident,” he said. A previous potential quarantine site – two unoccupied public buildings at Fai Ming Court in Fanling – was firebombed by protesters last Sunday who feared residents and students in nearby buildings and primary schools would be exposed to the virus. After two days of protests and clashes between police and demonstrators, the authorities said they would “cease the related preparation work” at the estate.