|A traveler arrives in Hong Kong from the mainland via the Shenzhen Bay Port. South China Morning Post|
By Chan Ho-him
Several students told the Post this week that among the problems they faced upon their eventual returns to the city were accommodation issues and the reality of a 14-day mandatory quarantine. Their parents, meanwhile, said they worried their children could face discrimination tied to the outbreak.
There are 12,000 mainland Chinese students studying at Hong Kong universities and 28,000 kindergarten, primary and secondary pupils who cross the border every day to attend classes.
The Education Bureau announced on Thursday a further extension of school closures till March 16 while universities have also suspended classes till next month or until further notice.
Of those cross-border secondary school students, more than 370 are expected to sit for the university entrance Diploma of Secondary Education (DSE) exams, which were originally expected to take place in March, but could now be postponed by up to a month.
|Cross-border students arrive at the Tsuen Wan Trade Association Primary School in Tsing Yi on the first day of school. South China Morning Post|
One of the candidates, Natalie He Lok-in, 17, a Form Six student who lives in Shenzhen but studies at a Sheung Shui secondary school, said she planned to return to Hong Kong on Saturday, and would stay with her aunt in Tin Shui Wai to prepare for the exams.
"I'll probably have to bring two 24-inch suitcases to carry all my books. There are textbooks, past papers and exercises … You never know which questions will be covered in the exams, so I think it's better to bring them all," she said.
One of her friends who also needed to take the DSE exams, but did not have anywhere to live in Hong Kong, planned to stay at a hotel, she added.
Another cross-border DSE candidate, Form Six student Joe Lam, who lives in Futian, Shenzhen, with his parents, plans to return on Saturday and stay at his family's flat in Hong Kong until May, an arrangement he saw as inconvenient.
"For one, after arriving in Hong Kong, I must undergo the mandatory quarantine … plus the prices in Hong Kong are higher than that of Shenzhen," he said.
Mainlander George Xiang, 51, father of Primary Five student Lucy Xiang, who has been studying in Hong Kong since kindergarten, said the quarantine rule had made going to school all but impossible for cross-border students.
|Security guard closes the gate of Shenzhen Bay Port, before a mandatory 14-day quarantine requirement for all mainland visitors to Hong Kong came in the next day. South China Morning Post|
"It's impossible for us to bring our child to Hong Kong and stay there," he said. "First, there is no place for us to stay. Plus, both of us have to work in Shenzhen. Should we all head to Hong Kong and lose our jobs here?"
Most Hong Kong schools began online learning as early as last week. But Xiang complained that some websites necessary for the classes cannot be accessed on the mainland, which has jeopardised students' education opportunities.
"You [the Hong Kong government] are excluding us and not letting our kids go back to school," he complained, adding that in the worst case scenario, he would not be able to let his 10-year-old daughter, a top student, return to school at all.
Torres Lee Chi-hung, service coordinator at the International Social Service Hong Kong Branch (ISS-HK), believed cross-border children could suffer from a labelling effect.
"There have been [past] conflicts between cross-border pupils and locals, as some locals used to believe they had abused public resources in Hong Kong," Lee said. "Now they might be treated unfairly because of the outbreak. Parents of some cross-border pupils worry they could be discriminated against."
Some university students said they had already experienced discrimination from their local peers.
|People wear protective face masks on a street corner in rain in Hong Kong, Thursday, Feb. 13, 2020. AP|
Liu, a 19-year-old journalism student at Baptist University who is stuck in Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak, said while she was taking an online class recently, some Hong Kong students wrote messages in a real-time chat telling her not to come back after learning where she was.
When Liu told them she had been a victim of the outbreak, they said they were the real victims. Liu called the remarks "discriminatory" and has since dropped that course.
But she agreed with the Hong Kong government's decision to ban residents of Hubei province or anyone, except Hong Kong residents, who had been there in the past 14 days from entering the city.
"The travel restriction is understandable. If I was a Hongkonger, I wouldn't want possible patients to be coming to Hong Kong," Liu said.
She added, however, that she remained worried that if she was not allowed back until May or June, the semester would have already ended.
Liu hoped she would be allowed to return to campus if authorities deem her healthy. To that end, she has avoided going out for weeks, while her mother has been doing the grocery shopping every few days.
|A worker checks the temperature of a passenger arriving into Hong Kong International Airport with an infrared thermometer, following the coronavirus outbreak in Hong Kong, China, Feb. 7, 2020. Reuters-Yonhap|
Another journalism student from Baptist University, 19-year-old Jasmine Chen, originally bought a train ticket from Guangzhou to Hong Kong on February 16, planning to go into quarantine at her home in Hong Kong as required and make it back to school by March.
But after the university's latest announcements that classes would be suspended until further notice, her plans are now up in the air. She said while she understood why the Hong Kong government would ask anyone coming to the mainland to be quarantined, she hoped Hongkongers would not be hostile to those coming across the border.
Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung Yun-hung said on Thursday that the Education Bureau had been considering different options for cross-border pupils, including the possibility of asking them to remain on the mainland for a period beyond the resumption of classes, but a final decision has not been made.
"They are also Hong Kong students, so we have to consider their interests as well," Yeung said.
"There is no urgency for students now staying in the mainland or other countries to return to Hong Kong."