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Hong Kong reports first coronavirus death as hospital workers escalate strike

HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong reported its first coronavirus death on Tuesday, a 39-year-old male who had been suffering from an underlying illness and had visited China’s Wuhan city in January, hospital staff said, marking the second death outside mainland China.

The first death outside of China was reported on Sunday – a 44-year-old Chinese man who died in the Philippines after travelling there from Wuhan, the epicentre of the virus.

The death toll in China rose on Tuesday by a new daily record to more than 420 and total infections in China rose by 3,235 to 20,438. There were at least 151 cases in 23 other countries and regions, including the United States, Japan, Thailand, Hong Kong and Britain.

The Hong Kong death comes as hundreds of medical workers in the Asian financial hub began a second day of strikes on Tuesday to force the government to completely close the city’s borders with mainland China, a day after embattled leader Carrie Lam left three remaining checkpoints open.

The former British colony so far has had 15 confirmed cases including one that was transmitted locally.

Holding red and white placards reading “Save HK now. I am a Hospital Authority staff on strike”, masked workers spilled out from inside the Authority’s Kowloon located headquarters, and onto the main road outside.

On Monday, authorities in Hong Kong announced the closure of four more border crossings with mainland China, leaving open the international airport, the bridge connecting the city to Macau and the southern Chinese city of Zhuhai as well as Shenzhen Bay Port in the north.

Around 2,700 workers from the newly formed Hospital Authority Employees Alliance (HAEA) went on strike on Monday to call for a sealing off of Hong Kong’s border and for better protection for hospital staff.

Lam has rejected calls to shut the entire border, saying such a move would be “inappropriate and impractical” as well as “discriminatory”.

The United States, Australia, Singapore, New Zealand and Vietnam are among countries that have denied entry to foreign nationals who have recently been in China.

Last week the Hong Kong government suspended the cross- border travel network at six checkpoints and halved the number of flights to the mainland among other measures.

Chief executive of the city’s hospital authority, Tony Ko, said in a statement late on Monday that while the authority agreed that cross-boundary passenger flow should be further reduced to avoid spreading of the virus, “we disagree with compromising patient safety when expressing opinions”.

A spokesman for the authority on Tuesday said that due to the large absence of medical staff in public hospitals today, some emergency services have been “severely” affected.

Reporting by Jessie Pang, Twinnie Siu and Sarah Wu; Writing by Farah Master; Editing by Kim Coghill and Michael Perry