Hong Kong panics as residents buy essentials fearing impending quarantine

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Several airlines have halted flights to China, and some to Hong Kong as well, many citing a drop in passengers because of fears of exposure to a virus that has killed more than 550 people and infected more than 28,000.

Chinese airports received around 610 million travellers in 2018, both worldwide and domestic, plus 47 million passengers that went through Hong Kong.

Health officials are trying to trace people who had traveled on the ship, many of whom disembarked in Hong Kong in January.

On Tuesday, the carrier said it planned to cut about 30% of capacity over the next two months, including about 90% of flights to mainland China. "But I believe after we say all arrivals have to be quarantined for 14 days from Feb 8, the number of arrivals will reduce", Mrs Lam said.

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"I understand that this is hard to understand and that we may have to take further steps, but by supporting the special leave you are helping in our emergency", he said to the staff.

Customers wear masks as they walk past empty toilet paper shelves at a supermarket, following the outbreak of a new coronavirus, in Hong Kong, China February 6, 2020.

"The problem of supply shortage doesn't exist", said Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung. "I urge the public not to believe in rumors".

The new coronavirus that emerged in a Chinese market at the end of past year has killed at least 490 people and spread around the world.

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Besides China, the virus has spread to more than 20 countries, including Japan, South Korea, Thailand, the U.S., Singapore, France, Russia, Spain, Vietnam, Malaysia, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, India, and Canada.

Everyone arriving from mainland China has to go through a two-week quarantine period, the government said and those failing to comply with the new measure, may face jail term or hefty fine.

"At a time when everyone is throwing themselves into the fight against the epidemic, and a few cases have already been confirmed (in Hong Kong), it's not fair".

Virgin added that travellers who have booked flights between Sydney and Hong Kong after March 2 will be contacted by email. Some medical staff have been on strike for the past three days, demanding a full border closure.

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Another 41 cases have been confirmed overseas , including in Thailand, the United States, and Australia. The overall number of confirmed cases in China is 2,744 while more than 300 are critically ill.

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