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COVID-19 is a strand of coronavirus first reported in Wuhan, China. It is a respiratory disease resulting in mild to severe or critical symptoms. Older people and those with existing health conditions are most at risk of developing severe symptoms.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared the COVID-19 outbreak a public health emergency and has urged every country to make tackling the disease its highest priority. Some national and local governments have implemented measures ranging from travel restrictions, strict quarantine requirements, bans on public gatherings and the temporary closure of schools, universities and workplaces.

Hong Kong has had 118 confirmed cases of the disease and three deaths as at 10 March 2020. Worldwide there have been over 113,000 confirmed cases of the disease and over 4,000 deaths. The UK had reported 373 cases and six deaths. The WHO has praised Hong Kong’s government’s response to the outbreak, which has included strict quarantine and travel restrictions and closing some public services, including schools. However, concerns have been raised about the social and economic impact of the measures taken. There have been reports of protests and mass arrests in recent weeks.

The Sino-British Declaration sets out how Hong Kong should be governed following its return to China in 1997. It guarantees certain rights and freedoms for its citizens, some of which obtained British National (Overseas) status, and a high degree of autonomy for the Hong Kong government. These rights and requirements last until 2047. The declaration has been registered with the United Nations (UN) and the UK monitors whether it is being upheld. However, the UK has no specific powers of intervention.

The British Consulate-General in Hong Kong has said it will maintain “close contact with British nationals in the region to ensure they have the latest information they need” if they encounter any difficulties due to the outbreak.

On 19 March 2020, the House of Lords is due to debate a motion moved by Lord Pendry (Labour) to move that “this House takes note of the problems facing the citizens of Hong Kong as a result of Wuhan coronavirus; and the case for Her Majesty’s Government providing support to those affected in the light of the 1984 Sino-British Declaration”.

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