Hong Kong sees thousands of medical workers strike as coronavirus spreads

Hospitals in Hong Kong have scaled back services as thousands of medical workers continued to strike Tuesday, demanding the closure of the semi-autonomous region's border with mainland China after reports of its first coronavirus death.

The strike of 7,000 hospital workers began Monday, hours before all but two of Hong Kong's land and sea borders with China were shut down amid growing fears the virus could spread locally.

“Important services, critical operations have been affected," said Carrie Lam, Hong Kong's chief executive. “So I’m appealing to those who are taking part in this action: Let’s put the interests of the patients and the entire public health system above all other things."

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Hong Kong health authorities have reported four coronavirus cases. In mainland China, 425 people have died and more than 20,000 people have been sickened.

Worldwide, 180 cases have been confirmed, including two deaths: a 39-year-old man in Hong Kong and another patient in the Philippines. The Hong Kong patient had traveled to Wuhan, the Chinese city where the outbreak started last month.

The Hospital Authority said Tuesday the man had pre-existing health conditions but gave no details. Many in Hong Kong distrust Chinese authorities, after months of anti-government protests that saw harsh crackdowns and resistance to Beijing's growing influence in the Asian financial hub.

The region was devastated by the 2002-2003 Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), a virus from the same family as the current outbreak.

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Pro-China supporters wearing masks urge government to deliver masks to local people during a protest in Hong Kong on Tuesday. Hong Kong reported its first death from a new virus, a man who had traveled from the mainland city of Wuhan that has been the epicenter of the outbreak. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)

Pro-China supporters wearing masks urge government to deliver masks to local people during a protest in Hong Kong on Tuesday. Hong Kong reported its first death from a new virus, a man who had traveled from the mainland city of Wuhan that has been the epicenter of the outbreak. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)

In Wuhan, authorities quarantined the city, along with 17 other cities, and built two hospitals to treat and evaluate patients. A 1,000-bed hospital was built in just 10 days and another expected to hold 1,500 beds is being constructed.

Other buildings, such as a gym, exhibition hall and cultural center, are being converted into hospitals, as well.

"There are too many patients, it's overcrowded," Fang Bin told The Associated Press about the city's No. 5 hospital that he was taken to. He said some patients were forced to sit on the ground and was later questioned by police after posting a video of what he saw online.

China has struggled to maintain a steady flow of supplies to contain the virus. The Vatican shipped up to 700,000 protective masks to the country and the European Union (EU) office in Beijing said member states have shipped 12 tons of protective equipment to China, with more on the way.

The World Health Organization (WHO), which declared a global emergency last week, has praised China for “setting a new standard for outbreak response,” despite others' criticism of China’s draconian measures to contain the virus.

Outside China, 11 coronavirus cases have been confirmed in the United States. Thailand confirmed 25 cases, the most of any country other than China.

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Nearly 200 Americans were evacuated from Wuhan last week. Evacuees are subject to a 14-day quarantine where they will be monitored for symptoms before being released.

Fox News' Bradford Betz and The Associated Press contributed to this report.