Coronavirus: 50 new cases in HK, government expected to toughen social-distancing measures after spike in untraceable infections

14-Jul-2020 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 6:02 AM Print This Post

Hong Kong has drastically tightened social-distancing rules to contain a rising wave of coronavirus infections after confirming a record 41 local cases on Monday, nearly half from an unknown source.

Among the new changes, the limit on public gatherings will be reduced from 50 to four people, while the number of patrons allowed at a table in restaurants will be capped at four.

Further details about the stepped-up strategy to contain the spread of the disease are expected to be announced when Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor meets the press at 8am.

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The city is battling a third coronavirus wave, with clusters emerging across the city, as well as a string of cases tied to returnees. Eleven of the new Covid-19 cases from overseas, helping to push the overall tally to 1,521, with seven related deaths.

Authorities said 20 cases were untraceable, while 21 local cases were linked to previously known infections, including ones involving Dim Sum Square in Sheung Wan, a canteen at Tuen Mun River Trade Terminal and Green River Restaurant in Tsz Wan Shan.

Dr Chuang Shuk-kwan, head of the communicable disease branch at the Centre for Health Protection, said officials had asked the affected restaurants to undergo a thorough cleaning and for anyone who had visited the establishments to carefully monitor their health for any signs of symptoms.

“If the public has been to those restaurants in the past one to two weeks and felt unwell, they should go to see a doctor as soon as possible,” Chuang said.

Separately, Hong Kong Red Cross Blood Transfusion Service said a man who donated blood at the West Kowloon Donor Centre on July 5 was among those confirmed infected. He is now being treated at Queen Elisabeth Hospital in Yau Ma Tei. Dr Lau Ka-hin, a chief manager at the Hospital Authority, said a patient at Queen Elisabeth had received a blood platelet transfusion from the infected man.

“The hospital will follow up with the patient who had undergone the blood transfusion and arrange the patient stay in an isolation ward and be tested,” Lau said.

Three of the new cases were linked to a cluster at an elderly care home in Tsz Wan Shan, where dozens of residents have been infected. Among the 20 untraceable cases were a 92-year-old woman admitted to a general medical ward at Queen Elisabeth on Sunday and a nurse who worked at a private cancer treatment facility in Yau Ma Tei.

Last week, the government reintroduced some social-distancing measures, including limiting the number of customers per table at restaurants to eight and increased testing among workers in public transport, retail and care homes.

The government had sweeping social-distancing measures in place by the end of March, limiting restaurants to four people per table, while bars were forced to close and public gatherings were capped at four people.

Curbs were eased gradually over the weeks that followed and by mid-June, all limits on restaurants lifted, and public gatherings were capped at 50 people. Restrictions for restaurants were retightened last Saturday, allowing up to eight people per table

Macau, meanwhile, took its own action on Monday, requiring anyone intending to travel to the city from Hong Kong via the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge to produce a medical certificate showing a negative test result for the virus.

Signs of a third wave in Hong Kong first appeared last week, with growing clusters in both Kowloon East and Sha Tin. Between July 5 and 11, there were 211 confirmed cases, including 143 local cases. The source of 45, or 31 per cent, could not be traced.

Of 38 cases confirmed on Sunday, 30 were locally transmitted, 13 of which were untraceable.

The city’s top epidemiologists have been split on how to contain the third wave of infections. Some were earlier calling for an immediate return to more stringent social-distancing rules, when the daily number of local cases hovered around 20 a day. But others doubt such measures are sustainable in the long run.

Dr David Hui Shu-cheong, a government adviser and expert in respiratory medicine at Chinese University, and University of Hong Kong microbiologist Dr Ho Pak-leung, believe the city must revert back to preventive measures adopted in March.

“The current policies are inadequate,” Ho said. “I think it’s a consensus among the public. We should not just look at the cases over the past week, but have to be forward-looking. We should look at how the epidemic could further develop if we do not tighten the rules in all directions.”

Ho hoped the government would announce more stringent measures by Tuesday, after a discussion with the chief executive’s Executive Council cabinet.

These should include limiting the number of diners at each table to four, asking civil servants to work from home and closing some sports facilities.

Hui agreed the government must act fast to cut the infection chain in the community.

“The largest problem is many of the cases cannot be traced… so if we do not tighten the rules, the chance of a great outbreak will be high,” Hui said.

Other experts are not convinced adopting blanket restrictions is the best response right now. Professor Yuen Kwok-yung, who advises the government on the health crisis and is Ho’s colleague at HKU, said the government was taking a restrained approach to first determine whether the situation escalated in the coming five to seven days. Tighter social-distancing measures might not contain the spread of the disease in the long run.

“But what about after two months? When the government relaxes the measures and the infections return again in September, do we need to fully suspend classes and work from home again?” he said.

Health officials have said the new outbreak has put increasing pressure on the health care system and quarantine capacity, with a major facility in Fo Tan to revert back to public housing next month.


Category: Hong Kong

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