Covid-19: Work on temporary China-Hong Kong bridge started before emergency law was invoked, satellite images show

On March 4, when the fifth wave of Covid-19 in Hong Kong was at its worst, Chief Secretary John Lee spoke of an emergency regulation to build a temporary bridge connecting the Lok Ma Chau Loop, the site of a makeshift hospital that will soon be built. , in Shenzhen, on the other side of the border. Satellite images acquired by HKFP appear to show a bridge between mainland China and Hong Kong beginning to take shape around five days before it was announced.

The construction of the Lok Ma Chau Loop temporary bridge seen on February 27 and March 6, 2022. Photos: Planet Labs PBC.

With public hospitals already overwhelmed by the growing number of Covid patients, the Hong Kong government announced on February 22 that it planned to build five makeshift community isolation and treatment facilities to ease pressure on the health system. Constructed from container cabins, these facilities would be similar to those seen in Wuhan during the early days of the pandemic. At Lok Ma Chau Loop, a site for an innovation and technology park would make way for a temporary hospital.

The 87-hectare river loop was once the territory of Shenzhen. Located across the Shenzhen River, which marks the border separating Hong Kong from the mainland, the loop was officially transferred to Hong Kong in 2017 after the river straightened, effectively redrawing the border.

This aerial photo shows the construction site of a hospital to treat Covid-19 patients in the Lok Ma Chau loop in Hong Kong, ahead of the skyline of the city of Shenzhen in southern China, the March 8, 2022. Photo: Dale de la Rey/AFP.

When Omicron struck, the Hong Kong government was in the process of turning the Lok Ma Chau loop into a HK$60 billion technology park, to which biotech talents from Hong Kong and the mainland could easily commute. Development plans for the park showed authorities had devised a “possible long-term link” with Shenzhen, “subject to further study”, where the temporary bridge is currently located.

Last May, Innovation and Technology Secretary Alfred Sit, who oversees development of the park, also said there were plans to build a pedestrian and bicycle bridge that would allow workers and residents of the park to move easily between the two cities.

Artist’s impression of the Lok Ma Chau Loop Technology Park. Photo: HK Gov, annotated by HKFP.

But for now, plans for the technology center have been put on hold as the city seeks to add some 1,000 beds in a hospital wing, as well as 10,000 beds in a community isolation facility, which is expected to open in April. .

Satellite images show construction of the bridge appears to have started five days before Chief Secretary John Lee invoked the Covid-19 emergency regulations on March 4 to build a temporary bridge over the river.

“[T]In order to protect the lives and health of Hong Kong people, the Lok Ma Chau Loop project must be completed as soon as possible,” a government spokesperson said that day. “The works personnel of both parties have agreed, after in-depth discussions, that it is of the utmost importance for the timely completion of the project to build temporary bridges in the border area of ​​the Lok Ma Chau Loop.”

Lok Ma Chau loop development plan. Photo: Hong Kong Planning Department.

The emergency exemption meant that construction personnel and building materials could move freely within the fenced construction site in the loop, the government said. There was no need to comply with existing customs, immigration, labor or construction safety laws.

Images captured by satellites show that two objects appear in the river at the current location of the bridge on February 27. They were likely barges – flat-bottomed boats to help build the bridge, civil engineer Ngai Hok-yan, who reviewed the footage, told HKFP.

On the same day the chief secretary’s announcement was made, photographs taken by mainland and local media showed an almost complete bridge. It was already connected to the mainland and stretched across the border drawn in the center of the Shenzhen River, which is about 122 meters wide at this point. The bridge was a few meters away from connecting to Hong Kong territory, according to a photo taken by China Daily.

Judging from photographs of the bridge before it was completed, Ngai said the bridge appeared to be constructed with iron trusses, used steel pipes as columns, and was laid with concrete. The bridge also appeared to use tubular steel piles as its foundation.

“If the trusses are prefabricated, building a bridge may only take two to three weeks,” he said. “The key is the time it would take to lay the groundwork. [The time for] putting a bridge on top is not difficult to control.

“Until the construction of the bridge reached the center of the river, it was theoretically Shenzhen’s business,” said Chan Kim-ching of Liber Research, a local think tank that studies land and land issues. development of Hong Kong. “So they didn’t start working after the emergency law [was announced].”

Chan said when development plans for the Lok Ma Chau Loop were made public a few years ago, the group noticed there were indications for a new bridge to connect to Shenzhen. “Was this bridge going to be a new border crossing? What would be its permanent status? There was no clear explanation for this at the time.

Construction of Lok Ma Chau Loop Hospital. File Photo: FactWire

“Based on these development plans, the bridge is likely to stand permanently,” he said. “The [temporary] the bridge would save [the government] a lot of work explaining why they need a bridge in the future, but they should explain if it will be a new border crossing and how it will be different from others.

Ngai, the civil engineer, however, said the bridge was a temporary structure that could not be made permanent as it would require different construction standards. “As a general rule, such construction techniques…can only be used in an emergency,” he said.

Construction of the makeshift hospital is underway. So far, there is no indication when or if the bridge will complete its mission, or if it will be demolished.

In response to HKFP’s inquiries about its plans for the temporary bridge, the Development Office said it had no comments to add other than the March 4 statement.

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