Coronavirus: Hong Kong nurses call in sick in protest at government refusal to close borders

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90 nurses from three hospitals take sick leave ahead of a planned strike against official response to the coronavirus

South China Morning Post |
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A hospital worker in protective clothing stands at an entrance to Princess Margaret Hospital, where 23 nurses called in sick on Wednesday.

At least 90 nurses at three Hong Kong hospitals took sick leave on Wednesday, ahead of a potential strike planned by a health care workers’ union in protest of the government’s response to the coronavirus.

The Hospital Authority confirmed the action, with many of the nurses upset at the refusal to close all border crossings as suggested by lawmakers and workers’ unions to guard against the spread of the deadly new virus, according to a source familiar with the situation.

A timeline of the coronavirus

Of those that called in sick, 26 work at Pok Oi Hospital in Yuen Long, while 41 were based at the intensive care unit or operation theatres at the Pamela Youde Nethersole Eastern Hospital in Chai Wan. Another 23 took sick leave at Princess Margaret Hospital in Kwai Chung.

On Tuesday, 15 nurses at Pamela Youde Nethersole Eastern Hospital, and five nurses at Princess Margaret Hospital also called in sick.

An authority spokesman said human resources would follow up staff’s sick leave applications and would deploy suitable manpower to keep services running.

A source familiar with the situation said the nurses took the action to sound the alarm before a real strike, which could come as early as next week, because the government had not been listening to demands from the sector.

Hong Kong government reduces transport to mainland, stops short of closing border

“A partial closure of the border is not enough, which is also the root cause of the grievances of many of the nurses,” the source said.

“Even though the government announced closing six border checkpoints [out of 15], many people are still able to enter Hong Kong from the mainland.”

Joseph Lee Kok-long, chairman of Hong Kong’s biggest nurses union, the Association of Hong Kong Nursing Staff, said he did not know the reason for nurses taking sick leave, but agreed many frontline health care workers had been upset by the government’s response to the outbreak.

“Most nurses are dedicated to their jobs. Just that [without a complete border closure], it’s more or less equal to pushing our frontline medical practitioners to their deaths,” Lee said.

The 15,000-strong Hospital Authority Employees Alliance said it would convene a general meeting on Saturday to discuss a strike, which could begin as early as next week, if the government did not close all of the city’s borders.

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