Coronavirus: opposition over plan to convert City Hall space into quarantine monitoring centre for 100 HK government workers

19-Feb-2020 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 6:02 AM Print This Post

Some 100 Hong Kong civil servants and volunteers involved in phone checks on quarantined residents will operate in a converted area at City Hall in Central, but critics have accused the government of cramming workers into a limited space and heightening health risks amid the coronavirus outbreak.

The Office of the government Chief Information Officer said on Monday evening that it had identified a venue in City Hall, the second of its kind with the first already in operation in North Point, to function as a monitoring centre. Authorities expect it to be ready by the end of the week.

Government sources told the Post earlier in the day that the site would span 6,350 sq ft nearly the size of 11/2 basketball courts for staff to monitor residents and travellers under the 14-day quarantine.

A civil servant involved in the operation expressed worries over Covid-19 infection risks, while a lawmaker described the arrangement as a “very bad example” of a crowd gathering.

In its reply to the concerns aired, the office said: “We anticipate that each centre, in full operation, will have less than 100 helpers on one shift, thus maintaining social distancing among them.”

But one of the government sources said the City Hall venue, which can accommodate up to 200 workers, might have shifts that overlapped.

The first site in North Point is located in an auditorium within the Customs and Excise Department headquarters. It is run by 200 staff members in shifts, with about 60 to 70 on each shift.

The civil servant, who spoke on condition of anonymity, slammed the operations as contradicting government measures to close cultural and leisure facilities to avoid large crowds amid the outbreak.

If anyone at such monitoring centres is infected, it would be disastrous

Civil servant who is part of the team

“It defeats the purpose of the work-from-home policy and neglects the safety concerns of workers,” the individual said, referring to the government measure to allow most of its 176,000-strong workforce to stay home until February 23.

“If anyone at such monitoring centres is infected, it would be disastrous, especially under the current circumstances as the incubation period of the coronavirus is very long, and there may be hidden carriers.”

Under the quarantine measures, residents are confined to their homes for two weeks, while non-locals, mostly those with a recent travel history to mainland China, must stay in hotels or at government-run centres.

By Monday evening, Hong Kong had recorded 60 Covid-19 cases with one related fatality, as authorities race to contain the disease which has infected more than 71,400 and killed 1,775 worldwide.

According to the Department of Health, the government has issued 7,858 quarantine orders from February 8 to last Saturday to 6,974 Hong Kong residents and 884 non-locals.

It said 6,494 people were confined to their homes, 246 were staying at hotels and 118 were placed into government quarantine centres.

A handout photo of the monitoring centre in North Point shows workers in surgical masks scattered around a hall.

Another government source said workers at the City Hall site would include staff from the Office of the government Chief Information Officer and other civil servants or government contract workers recruited as volunteers.

Only one mask would be distributed to them per day, the source said.

A third individual familiar with the arrangement said the City Hall plan was drawn up on “short notice”, and it was unclear how long both centres would be in operation.

Civic Party lawmaker Kwok Ka-ki, also a private urologist, said: “They are launching anti-epidemic measures. But they have demonstrated a very bad example of allowing a large group of people to gather in one place.”

Kwok said officials should use larger venues such as the Convention and Exhibition Centre in Wan Chai, or the Hong Kong Park Sports Centre in Central and Sheung Wan Sports Centre, which may have higher ceilings and windows.

Infectious disease expert Dr Joseph Tsang Kay-yan proposed partitions to separate workers at a distance of at least 2 to 3 metres, considering a range of up to 1.8 metres for droplet transmission of the virus.

Tsang said all employees should be facing the same direction while at work, instead of each other, and wear masks. Regular temperature checks should also be conducted.

“If all of these are in place, and if there are also people cleaning the site, proper ventilation installed and temperature checks conducted, then I think it is a feasible plan,” Tsang said. “The risk will be minimised.”

He added that workers, who still needed to speak on the phone during their work, would have to change their masks every four hours ideally.


Category: Hong Kong

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