US Consulate in Hong Kong Closes For 'Deep' Clean, Denies Rule Breach
2021-03-17 -- The U.S. Consulate General in Hong Kong was closed on Wednesday for deep cleaning after two of its employees tested positive for coronavirus, amid allegations from a ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP)-owned news site that staff had breached quarantine regulations.
"We have closed the Consulate General to perform a deep disinfection and cleaning, while appropriate contact tracing is completed," the consulate said in a statement on its website.
The closure ran from Tuesday through Wednesday, and included the visa section, appointments for which will be rescheduled, it said.
"We have been informed that two Consulate General employees have tested positive for COVID-19," it said. "We can confirm that the employees in question do not work in offices that interact with the public."
The closure came after a mandatory testing order from the city's health authorities, as a news website owned by the CCP's Central Liaison Office in Hong Kong claimed that the consular employees had paid scant heed to quarantine restrictions despite testing positive.
The report said the two employees had declined to comply, citing diplomatic immunity.
"Instead of complying with quarantine arrangements, they were wandering around, and going to work at the consulate," it said, calling their alleged behavior a "hidden danger" in the fight against COVID-19.
The report sparked a four-person protest outside the consulate, where participants held up banners saying "no to exceptionalism, no to special privilege."
It was later picked up in China-controlled newspapers the Global Times, the Ta Kung Pao, and the Wen Wei Po.
Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam denied on Tuesday that anyone had received special treatment, regardless of privilege.
She said the two consular employees had been admitted to hospital and were currently receiving treatment in isolation. Their two children had been isolated alongside them as close contacts, the People's Daily Hong Kong edition reported on its Facebook page.
The Hong Kong Health Protection Center said that the two U.S. staff members are husband and wife, aged 40 and 41, residing at Dynasty Court, Mid-Levels.
They were asymptomatic, had had three close contacts, and had worn masks on their last day at work, which was March 12, it said.
Jalina Porter, principal deputy spokesperson for the State Department, said in a statement that the reports of non-compliance were "disinformation."
"We've been informed that two consulate general employees have tested positive for COVID-19, but due to privacy concerns, we're not able to share additional information," Porter told a regular media briefing.
"When it comes to disinformation about these two not complying to quarantine, that is absolutely false," she said.
Meanwhile, the consulate rejected the media reports on its Facebook page: "The disinformation campaign from Chinese controlled media about the two positive cases among U.S. Consulate personnel, and our response, is false."
"We reject these efforts to spread disinformation about a critical public health issue," it said.
Meanwhile, the HK01.com news site reported that some of those sent to a quarantine facility after a cluster of infections at the Ursus Fitness gym had been breaking quarantine restrictions.
"Some of those quarantined at Penny's Bay complained that people were opening their doors or windows ... drinking alcohol and talking loudly with residents on the other side with no masks on," it said.
"Some even tried to leave their rooms."
The Hong Kong government also announced "ambush lockdowns" and mandatory COVID-19 testing on several residential buildings in Sai Ying Pun and Causeway Bay districts on Wednesday, in a bid to rein in ongoing infections on Hong Kong Island.
Reported by Gigi Lee, Malik Wang and Carmen Wu for RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.
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