Hong Kong has turned two holiday camps, including a former military barracks, into quarantine zones for people who may have come into contact with carriers of the Wuhan virus, officials announced on Thursday (Jan 23). So far, two people in the city have tested positive for the new coronavirus – which is similar to the SARS pathogen.

The Wuhan Virus and pro-democracy protests could potentially intersect in a number of possible ways, Polysentry identifies 2 possible scenarios.

Scenario 1: The Wuhan Virus outbreak significantly worsens and authorities take up increased precautions. These could range from minor implementations such as additional screenings to outright curfews and restrictions on ports of entry. This coupled with the general climate of fear in the public, given Hong Kong’s history with SARS, could significantly increase the barriers to mass mobilization. The protest movement will have to decentralize further, with mass gatherings replaced by online communities and business boycotts

Scenario 2: The disease threat remains at a manageable level, and the status quo prevails. However, this presents the mainland authorities with a unique opportunity to use the spectre of an epidemic to clamp down on the Hong Kong public. Curfews and restrictions on public gatherings could still be imposed under the guise of public health and safety concerns. Such a move will allow the authorities to essentially achieve 2 objectives simultaneously; prevention of any possible disease spread and containment of the protest movement.

Although the disease trajectory is beyond the scope of prediction or control, the authorities’ response is not. Hence, a combination of Scenarios 1 and 2 is most likely to occur in the coming weeks.

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On Thursday evening, Hong Kong officials cancelled a five-day Chinese New Year festival in a public park that had been due to open on Saturday. Additionally, all passengers coming to Hong Kong via high-speed rail link will have to fill out health declaration form and trains will be disinfected upon arrival. Opposition lawmakers have called for the station to be closed, accusing the government of not wanting to embarrass the authorities in Beijing. Hong Kong’s train operator MTR Corporation also said it was no longer selling tickets to Wuhan, which has been placed under lockdown by Chinese authorities, while Cathay Pacific said it would stop flights to the city until Feb 29.

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The threat of disease is real, especially in Hong Kong which has been the site of outbreaks in the past (SARS and The Hong Kong Flu). Business operating in Hong Kong should be prepared for public service disruptions, changes to freedom of movement and ease of access to transportation networks, all of which are likely to affect the development of the pro-democracy protests. Given the nature of the crisis (a public health emergency), public support for emergency measures to tackle the disease is likely to be high, hence the protest movement is most likely to decentralise further in the coming weeks. OSINT monitoring will become more valuable as tactics and movement strategy are increasingly discussed online.

 

Thiyaghessan Poongundranar is a political risk analyst at Polysentry — a technology company providing risk managers, executives, security teams, and operations centers with personalized threat intelligence. Polysentry leverages your locations, facilities, and/or supply chain data to provide in real-time situational intelligence in any country globally. Get a free demo of Polysentry’s security platform today and build a complete customized security monitoring dashboard for your company. 

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