Coronavirus: HK to place tens of thousands in lockdown in bid to contain outbreak; residents must remain in neighbourhoods until restriction lifted

23-Jan-2021 Intellasia | South China Moring Post | 6:02 AM Print This Post

Hong Kong will for the first time lock down tens of thousands of city residents in a bid to contain a worsening outbreak in coronavirus-hit Yau Tsim Mong district, home to neighbourhoods filled with ageing, subdivided flats.

The lockdown, the most drastic measure yet during the year-long pandemic, is expected to begin this weekend in the district’s two designated mandatory testing areas. Sources clarified that Sham Shui Po district, originally believed to be included in the plan, was not yet affected.

A lockdown of areas hard-hit by a new Covid-19 outbreak will mark a first in Hong Kong’s battle with the pandemic. Photo: Martin Chan

A lockdown of areas hard-hit by a new Covid-19 outbreak will mark a first in Hong Kong’s battle with the pandemic. Photo: Martin Chan

Only residents who showed negative Covid-19 test results would be allowed to leave their buildings, sources familiar with the situation said, while none could leave the area until the restriction was lifted.

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Even those who tested negative for the virus would be asked to remain at home as much as practicable, they added.

Only three types of people will be allowed to enter the lockdown area: residents, relatives staying in the same flat as those in need of care, and staff members in urgently needed sectors such as elder care.

Shops in the designated areas will remain closed, with government employees providing food and daily necessities to residents in need.

The government is expected to appeal to businesses to show understanding for employees affected by the operation, which is expected to be completed by Monday.

Exemptions will be made for residents with medical needs or who face undue hardship.

“Persistently high and spreading infection [in the areas] and sewage surveillance suggest the outbreak is not yet under control, and many silent sources still exist within the area,” a source said.

The lockdown decision came after sewage testing devices recently installed across Yau Tsim Mong district showed concentrated traces of Covid-19.

The government will lift the order only when it is satisfied everyone in the area has been tested.

About half of the daily infections in the past week have come from Yau Tsim Mong district. The outbreak in the older neighbourhoods has also been linked with clusters at construction sites, where residents of the communities there were employed.

But respiratory disease specialist Dr Leung Chi-chiu told a Friday radio programme that issuing the stay-at-home order now would be “too late” and “rather meaningless”, as most residents in the designated mandatory testing area were already screened over the past week.

Leung suggested the government expand the scope of mandatory testing in Yau Tsim Mong rather than focusing on targeted sections to prevent a wider outbreak in the densely populated area.

Luk Hing-fat, chair of the Temple Street Business Chamber, told the same radio show that he supported the idea of locking down coronavirus-hit hotspots, as the stricken neighbourhood needed help from the government to limit the number of people going in and out of the area.

“It’s better to bear the pain now than to let it get worse,” Luk said of the proposal, adding it would be better to force the community to stay put until all asymptomatic cases were identified.

Frank Ho Fu-wing, district councillor for Jordan North, meanwhile said residents and community leaders were severely underprepared to handle a sudden lockdown.

“It’s very chaotic and unclear right now, as there’s no official confirmation from the government yet,” Ho said. “We don’t know how the lockdown will be implemented at all or what to tell residents.”

Ho also said he feared residents would flee the area before the lockdown took effect, posing a bigger risk of transmission to the general public.

Over the past week, more than 10,000 residents have been tested at government screening centres and mobile stations. But health authorities have said the actual number of flats in the area has been difficult to determine as many units have been subdivided without authorisation.

Health authorities first isolated four tenement blocks on Reclamation Street in Jordan of the Yau Tsim Mong district last Friday, stopping people from entering or leaving those buildings to make sure all residents are quarantined.

The city’s overall tally of cases stood at 9,867 through Thursday, with 167 related deaths. More than 40 people also tested preliminary-positive.



Category: Hong Kong

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