Coronavirus: HK faces ‘imminent threat’ from Delta, Omicron variants as officials uncover 2 more untraceable cases and quarantine hotel cluster spreads to at least 3 schools

21-Jan-2022 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 5:02 AM Print This Post

Hong Kong authorities have warned of an “imminent threat” from two coronavirus variants spreading locally after uncovering two more untraceable Covid-19 cases and finding that a cluster linked to a quarantine hotel has spread to at least three schools.

A government spokesman on Wednesday night urged residents not to join social gatherings during the Lunar New Year holiday, which starts on February 1.

“Hong Kong is now facing the imminent threat of both the Delta and Omicron mutant strains spreading in the community,” he said.

“We strongly urge residents to reduce social contact and avoid gatherings among families during the festive season in order to contain the pandemic.”

Of the 16 Covid-19 cases confirmed on Wednesday, five were epidemiologically linked, including a 73-year-old man whose infection was traced to the Little Boss pet shop in Causeway Bay. Officials earlier found the first suspected animal-to-human transmission involving the Delta variant in the shop, sparking a cull of 2,000 hamsters.

A 17-year-old student living in Kwun Tong was also found to be carrying the Delta variant and investigations were under way to identify if there was a link between the preliminary-positive infection and the pet shop cluster.

One of the two confirmed cases with an unknown source is a 26-year-old female kindergarten teacher who works at Learning Habitat in North Point. She lives in Mei Foo and is believed to be carrying the Omicron variant.

The other untraceable infection involves a 79-year-old man who lives at Kwai Chung Estate and had medical tests at Yan Chai Hospital last month. An airport cargo centre worker who lives on the estate also tested preliminary-positive.

“The pandemic situation is now getting very serious,” Dr Chuang Shuk-kwan, head of the Centre for Health Protection’s communicable disease branch, told a press briefing on Wednesday afternoon.

“We are seeing more untraceable cases, there are silent transmissions across the community. They are mostly linked to two clusters, the Little Boss pet shop and the Yau Ma Tei hotel.”

She called on residents living in Mei Foo and Sham Shui Po to get tested as soon as possible to curtail the spread of Delta and Omicron infections.

On Wednesday night, the government once again urged residents and people working in Sham Shui Po to get screened and cut off suspected invisible transmission chains. Eight test sites were set up to facilitate the operation.

A government spokesman said several areas in Sham Shui Po had reported a number of confirmed cases from unknown sources. It had also recently collected sewage samples which later tested positive.

“We are worried that silent transmissions are taking place now in the community, which may further exacerbate the epidemic situation,” he said.

Nine of Wednesday’s confirmed cases were imported. The latest cases took the overall tally to 13,082, with 213 related deaths. More than 10 preliminary-positive cases were also reported.

Three confirmed cases are now untraceable, including a supermarket handler identified previously.

The cluster started by a cross-infection at the Silka Seaview in Yau Ma Tei has spread to a school. A total of six people who stayed at the hotel have been infected while 12 close contacts of one case who entered the community after three weeks of quarantine tested positive.

Three pupils in two separate classes at Delia Memorial School (Broadway) in Mei Foo have now been confirmed as infected while a 58-year-old teacher tested preliminary-positive on Wednesday. The teacher, who lives in Ma On Shan, had monitored an exam of one of the classes.

Chuang said transmission at the school was “strange”, as the pupils should have had less contact with classmates during exams. “The two classes did have transmission events. We need to confirm how many students and teachers are affected before we can conclude whether it is a superspreading event,” she said.

The latest confirmed case is a 16-year-old male pupil who lives in Tower 1 of Caribbean Coast in Tung Chung. The infections prompted authorities to order 60 students and teachers to be sent to compulsory quarantine on both Tuesday and Wednesday.

The first confirmed infections at the school emerged on Tuesday, involving two sons, aged 14 and 16, of a 43-year-old woman who returned from Pakistan on December 20. She had completed three weeks of mandatory quarantine at the Silka Seaview and returned home to Sham Shui Po’s Tai Hang Tung Estate on January 10 but tested preliminary-positive five days later.

Authorities on Wednesday also said three students from other schools had visited the Tung Chung pupil’s home and had tested preliminary-positive.

Preliminary cases were logged at HKMA David Li Kwok Po College in Tai Kok Tsui, Buddhist Fat Ho Memorial College in Tai O and Lantau International School on Lantau Island.

Respiratory medicine expert Dr Leung Chi-chiu said authorities did not suspend face-to-face classes fast enough to contain the spread of Covid-19.

“Whether it’s secondary school or university, it’s still a gathering of many people and not all classrooms are equipped with air filtration systems, making it a risk for spreading infection,” he said.

Leung also warned that cases could rise exponentially if more untraceable infections emerged over the coming weeks.

“We’re already at the stage where there are silent transmissions yet to be uncovered, especially as many of the untraceable cases are mild so they will only get tested if they feel something is wrong,” he said. “For the asymptomatic ones, they will be hard to find unless there is mandatory testing.”

In a late-night statement, meanwhile, the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department said it had collected 125 animal samples on Monday from the Little Boss pet shop for Covid-19 tests, including from 21 rabbits, 50 hamsters and seven chinchillas. Eleven samples from hamsters tested positive.

The department also collected 511 samples from chinchillas, guinea pigs, hamsters, rats and rabbits at the shop’s warehouse in Tai Po that day. Testing was in progress.

It “humanely dispatched” animals collected from Little Boss, including 21 rabbits, 69 hamsters and seven chinchillas. From the warehouse, animals including 138 rabbits, 861 hamsters, two golden hamsters, 31 chinchillas, 81 guinea pigs and three white lab rats were also put down.

The department said it had not barred veterinary clinics from admitting hamsters.


Category: Hong Kong

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