15:21 GMT20 February 2020
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    Supplies such as surgical masks and disinfectants have undergone shortages and price surges in Hong Kong in the last few days over fears that the deadly coronavirus would spread in the city as people who spent the Lunar New Year in mainland China return home to the semi-autonomous state.

    So far, Hong Kong has seen at least eight confirmed cases of the deadly virus, which is officially known as 2019-nCoV and is related to the virus that causes sudden acute respiratory syndrome (SARS).

    According to a report by Asia Times, grocery stores in Hong Kong have increased the price of a three-layer surgical mask from about $0.26 to $0.39, and masks being sold at vending machines at public hospitals were going for as high as $0.39. Some grocery stores in the New Territories, which is one of the three main regions of Hong Kong, have raised the price of three-layer surgical masks to around $2.30.

    According to Ho Chung Ping, president of the Hong Kong Medical Association, local clinics in Hong Kong are currently facing a shortage of protective masks. Many locals have resorted to buying masks from online shops in Taiwan, Japan, Thailand and Malaysia, Asia Times reported, while many people have also been forced to wait for up to two hours outside local shops to purchase masks. 

    Other supplies such as alcohol-based sanitizers, antibacterial soaps and even bleach were likewise in high demand this week. However, according to Asia Times, the price of a 1.5-liter bottle of bleach has remained constant at around $1.93. Residents were also scrambling to stock up on rice, noodles and frozen foods, the outlet reported. 

    Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam on Tuesday announced that new travel restrictions could greatly reduce the number of visitors coming in from mainland China. So far, the Hong Kong government has shut down two railways that connect the city to the mainland, as well as cross-border tour buses and ferries. In addition, flights between mainland China and the city will be reduced by half, the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported Tuesday. All of these measures are expected to go into effect Thursday at midnight local time.

    “Substantially reducing the flow of people between the two places is a means to control epidemic,” Lam said, WSJ Times reported.

    The virus first began spreading in mainland China’s Wuhan some time between December 12 and December 29. During a Monday news conference, a well-known scientist in Hong Kong, Dr. Gabriel Leung, estimated that nearly 26,000 people have been infected in China, which is much higher than the official number of coronavirus cases registered across China as of Wednesday: 6,000. Leung also noted that the number of cases could be as high as 44,000 if those who are infected by the virus but are still in the incubation stage are accounted for.

    The current death toll of the outbreak in China is 162 people. No deaths have yet been reported outside of China.

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