Coronavirus: HK’s first two locally discovered variant patients charged for misleading officials; 1,200 quarantined residents get early release

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

Health authorities on Saturday brought charges against two people for withholding details or providing misleading information after they sparked a Covid-19 variant infection scare as the first two cases to be discovered locally in Hong Kong with mutant strains of the coronavirus.

News that authorities were taking action against the two, a 29-year-old engineer who flew in from Dubai and his 31-year-old female friend working in a local clinic, came as the government allowed residents sent to quarantine camps in the ensuing fallout to start returning home earlier under relaxed rules announced on Friday.

A government source said the man and the woman, both of whom were confirmed infected about three weeks ago, were arrested in the morning and detained at the Yau Ma Tei police station.

The man was charged with giving misleading information, and the woman with allegedly refusing to provide particulars.

Under the Prevention and Control of Disease Ordinance, anyone who knowingly gives false or misleading information in such matters including whereabouts, medical history and contact with others faces a HK$10,000 fine and six months in jail.

The city had no new local infections to report on Saturday, but confirmed five more imported Covid-19 cases four from Indonesia and one from Spain. That took Hong Kong’s total to 11,806 cases, with 210 related deaths.

While Hong Kong has managed to bring coronavirus infections under control so far, the emergence of more infectious variants is causing alarm. The two who became the first cases of variant infections locally have been in the spotlight because authorities only recently uncovered their potential transmission links with three domestic helpers and other related cases, after they failed to keep health officials fully informed of their whereabouts and contacts.

By Friday, health authorities said the infection cluster sparked by the pair had grown to eight cases.

The first batches of people among some 2,000 residents caught up in the variant scare and quarantined in camps were allowed to go home on Friday and Saturday. Officials eased rules to let those placed under quarantine for 21 days because of variant infections in their residential buildings leave the camps earlier in batches if test results returned negative.

An official memo received by residents quarantined at the Penny’s Bay camp told them to pack up after lunch and that staff would come to their door an hour before departure.

The Department of Health said around 1,200 people quarantined in government facilities were sent home on Friday and Saturday.

Those who were released received a note from Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor saying the government understood that the tough quarantine rules were causing anxiety and inconvenience. She thanked them for their understanding and cooperation in contributing to the city’s anti-epidemic efforts.

Residents of Royalton I in Pok Fu Lam, Caribbean Coast in Tung Chung, Kornhill in Quarry Bay and Allway Gardens in Tsuen Wan were expecting to be sent home early after the discovery of variants in their private housing estates disrupted their lives.

“Everyone just wants to get out,” said one Caribbean Coast resident who had been isolated at Penny’s Bay since April 30.

Under a changed policy announced on Friday, residents of buildings linked to mutated strains do not have to serve 21 days of quarantine as initially required, but they will have to be tested four times over a self-monitoring stretch.

But those living in the same household as an infected person, or staying in environments such as subdivided flats, will have to undergo full quarantine.

Centre for Health Protection controller Dr Ronald Lam Man-kin said the latest risk assessment showed all residents of Parkes Building in Jordan, where the first local variant case was identified, had tested negative over their 21 days of quarantine, which ended on Friday.

Professor David Hui Shu-cheong, a government adviser on the pandemic, told a radio programme that health authorities expected quarantine facilities to run out of space quickly if residents of entire buildings had to move out. It would also cause inconvenience to people who were not close contacts of cases, he said.

“There is still an invisible transmission chain in the community, but due to social-distancing measures and the public’s awareness of hygiene, there are no signs of widespread outbreaks of the coronavirus yet in the community,” he added.

Among all the complaints about the inconvenience that quarantined people had to put up with, at least 16 Allway Gardens residents felt unwell after eating supplied meals at Penny’s Bay on Friday, Tsuen Wan district councillor Chiu Yan-loy said. The quarantine centre then apologised for the “food hygiene problem” and informed them that they would be provided with instant noodles instead of meal boxes.

A spokesman for the health department said the food vendor’s services had been suspended.

Meanwhile, the government said on Saturday that fully vaccinated parents arriving from relatively lower-risk countries might not be able to take advantage of relaxed quarantine rules announced on Friday if they were travelling with children under 16 years old, who have largely been excluded from vaccination drives around the world.

For instance, under the new rules, set to be rolled out on May 12, fully vaccinated people arriving from low-risk countries such as Australia, New Zealand and Singapore would only have to undergo seven days of hotel quarantine and another seven of self-monitoring.

But the Food and Health Bureau said unvaccinated children from those places would still be required to undergo the full 14 days of hotel quarantine required of visitors from low-risk countries, with one of their parents or a caretaker allowed to stay with them.

Separately, authorities disclosed on Saturday that two more people had died within a week of receiving BioNTech vaccinations for the coronavirus, but noted that no clinical evidence currently indicated the deaths were caused by the vaccine.

The first case involved a 58-year-old woman who died from aortic dissection a tearing of the lining of a major blood vessel leading from the heart on Saturday. She had received her first BioNTech jab on May 1.

The second case involved a 61-year-old man who collapsed at his workplace on Friday night and died later the same day. An examination revealed he had ventricular fibrillation a kind of abnormal heart rhythm and died of a heart attack. He had received his first shot on Wednesday.

As of May 2, authorities said a total of 16 reports of deaths taking place within 14 days of vaccination had been received, however no links have been established so far between the fatalities and the shots.

As of Saturday, nearly 1.06 million people had received their first dose of a coronavirus vaccine, with almost 649,000 of those having also got their second.

So far, nearly 582,400 people have opted for BioNTech jabs, while more than 473,000 have chosen Sinovac.


Category: Hong Kong

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