Coronavirus: HK steps up Covid-19 screening rules for arrivals undergoing hotel quarantine, requiring more tests and experienced staff

15-May-2021 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 5:02 AM Print This Post

Hong Kong health authorities have stepped up Covid-19 screening requirements for arrivals quarantining in designated hotels, increasing testing frequency and only allowing more experienced medical staff to take samples.

The new measures were announced on Thursday night in response to the recent community detection of cases involving mutated strains of the coronavirus, which were only discovered after the infected arrivals had completed 21 days of hotel quarantine.

Earlier, Hong Kong marked its sixth straight day with no untraceable coronavirus cases, as a medical expert said the city was on its way to reaching zero local infections.

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Three new infections were confirmed two imported and one involving a 40-year-old woman linked to a cluster of variant cases tied to an engineer who flew in from Dubai in March.

The tighter screening regime, which is already in force, requires arrivals to take a total of between two and four Covid-19 tests during their quarantine period, depending on the length of time they must spend in isolation.

To enhance the quality of the screening process, the government also imposed new contractual terms on the laboratories involved, requiring all those taking the samples to be registered or enrolled nurses with experience in infection control and collecting specimens.

The contractor must also appoint medical personnel with at least three years of managerial experience to oversee testing to ensure Department of Health standards were being met. They must also set up an internal assessment task force to monitor the effectiveness and quality of testing and submit regular self-auditing reports to the government.

“If the contractor fails to meet all of the aforementioned requirements, the government may terminate the contract at any time and debar the contractor from bidding for contracts in similar nature in future,” a statement from the administration said.

The government further suggested that hotels cap occupancy at 80 per cent if a large number of their guests came from high-risk areas, and that operators segregated such customers from those arriving from other places.

All designated hotels had started installing air purifiers on every floor, and requiring staff to undergo screening every seven days, instead of every two weeks, the statement added.

The new qualification requirements for medical staff taking samples follow a series of blunders relating to testing contractor BGI, which was last month stripped of its right to operate mobile screening stations.

In the latest mistakes, involving its Tai Po Industrial Estate laboratory, retesting revealed at least 26 instances of false preliminary-positives being returned on a single day last month.

Conversely, a domestic helper who repeatedly tested negative at a quarantine hotel was found to have been carrying a highly infectious mutated strain of the coronavirus after moving in with her employer.

A theory on how the false positives came about, pending an inquiry, is that they arose from the cross-contamination of laboratory samples. BGI admitted to the media later that it had taken samples from the domestic helper at the hotel.

Of Thursday’s confirmed coronavirus cases, the 40-year-old woman was a household contact of a 42-year-old man confirmed to be infected on Wednesday.

They both went to a family gathering in Chai Wan on April 13, as well as another social event in Sham Shui Po five days later with three domestic helpers, all of whom were later confirmed to be infected.

The day’s two imported cases involved a helper from Indonesia and a man returning from France.

The man travelled to France on May 6, returned to the city three days later, and was sent to hospital on Tuesday when he developed fever during quarantine. He was found to be carrying the L452R coronavirus mutation, which is linked to a few variants, including the one first reported in India.

His building at 29 Staunton Street in Central, where he spent part of his incubation period, will be put under a mandatory testing order.

The city’s total tally of confirmed infections stood at 11,817 with 210 related deaths.

Respiratory medicine expert Dr Leung Chi-chiu sounded a positive note on Thursday, pointing out that few local cases had been uncovered lately in spite of the large amount of testing done.

“We should be quite close to the goal of zero local infections,” Leung said. “But hopefully there will not be any problems caused by loopholes in preventive measures against imported cases.”

He noted there could still be risks associated with reduced quarantine requirements for fully vaccinated arrivals and close contacts, and said he suspected the confirmed case who travelled from France had contracted the virus there, as there was no large-scale transmission locally.

Meanwhile, as authorities continued to encourage residents to get vaccinated amid sluggish uptake, at least 11 people who had received jabs had applied for claims from the government’s indemnity fund, the Food and Health Bureau revealed.

The fund is designed to provide financial support to those who have experienced unexpected adverse reactions proven to be associated with Covid-19 vaccines offered in the city.

Claims are first assessed by an expert committee set up by the government. The fund’s administrator takes its findings into account as well as information from other medical institutions before determining if an applicant is eligible for a payment. Final approval comes from the bureau.

A document listing the terms and conditions of the fund notes that payouts would be “arbitrary”, as “suffering and damages perceived by an individual are subjective and cannot be quantified”.

The scheme sets out four main levels of severity of adverse effects: pain and suffering, long-term damage, disablement and death.

Someone under the age of 40 who suffers a non-fatal adverse reaction could be entitled to up to HK$3 million (US$386,000), while those older than 40 top out at HK$2.5 million. The amount of the payout would vary depending on the severity and duration of the conditions.

For example, if a person under 40 suffered from facial paralysis for at least 61/2 months, together with other conditions such as noticeable facial asymmetry or corneal damage classified as long-term damage they would be entitled to no more than 50 per cent of the maximum amount, or HK$1.5 million.

Someone the same age who experienced the same condition for at least seven days but less than 61/2 months, would only be entitled to up to 4 per cent of the maximum, or HK$120,000 (US$15,000).

Veteran medical insurance agent Elaine Chan Sau-ho said it was difficult to compare the payouts under the indemnity fund with those of existing private products, which did not target adverse reactions to Covid-19 vaccinations.

As of May 2, the Department of Health had confirmed 46 instances of facial paralysis known as Bell’s Palsy following Covid-19 vaccinations.

So far 33 people have been reported to have died following Covid-19 vaccinations, but no links have been established yet between the fatalities and the jabs.


Category: Hong Kong

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