HK fourth wave: Carrie Lam promises downscaled, ‘ambush-style’ Covid-19 lockdowns in future, as 64 new infections confirmed

27-Jan-2021 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 7:22 AM Print This Post

Residents of 12 buildings in Yau Ma Tei were suddenly placed under lockdown from 7pm on Tuesday, as Hong Kong confirmed 64 new Covid-19 infections citywide and two more deaths.

People living in buildings numbered 9-27 Pitt Street and Shun Fung Building at 3 Tung On Street were ordered to stay in their homes until tested. The move, announced at the last minute to avoid giving residents a heads up through media leaks, was expected to end at 6am on Wednesday, according to a government notice.

Police officers blocked off the area with metal barriers and directed residents to booths where health officers checked their identity cards and went through some procedures.

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Trucks were seen driving into the cordoned-off area to offload materials.

The fresh measure came after Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said on Tuesday morning that the government would try to carry out “ambush-style” lockdowns in the future.

“We should do smaller-scale, restriction testing operations, but we could do more at the same time,” she said.

Before the operation, authorities had announced that two more neighbourhoods would also be placed under stepped-up mandatory testing orders and existing social-distancing measures would be extended by another week.

Residents of any building with just one coronavirus infection within two areas in Hung Hom and Mong Kok would have to undergo mandatory screening under the tightened measures. An existing mandatory testing zone in Jordan was also been expanded, while one in Sham Shui Po remained the same.

“The new districts were added after looking at the distribution of infections in buildings over the past two weeks,” Undersecretary for Food and Health Dr Chui Tak-yi said. “We want to take action before these cases become significant, that’s why we are adding these areas.”

The boundaries of the testing zone in Mong Kok are Nathan Road to the east, Public Square Street to the south, Ferry Street to the west and Dundas Street to the north. Meanwhile, the area in Hung Hom will be marked by Station Lane to the northeast, Dock Street and Po Loi Street to the southeast, Winslow Street and Hung Hom South Road to the southwest and Chatham Road North to the northwest.

The Jordan testing area will be expanded to reach Nathan Road to the east, Austin Road to the south, Ferry Street and Canton Road, including Man Wah Sun Chuen, to the west and Kansu Street to the north.

The government also announced it would extend existing social-distancing measures, which include a ban on public gatherings of more than two people, no dine-in services after 6pm, and the continued closures of some venues such as bars and beauty parlours, until February 3.

Of Tuesday’s new cases, 63 were locally transmitted and one was imported from the United Arab Emirates. Among the local tally were 21 infections with untraced sources. The city’s confirmed case total stood at 10,222, with 172 related deaths. More than 50 preliminary-positive cases were reported.

Lam had hailed the 44-hour mandatory-testing exercise in Jordan as a success, despite news of the operation leaking, allowing some residents to flee beforehand. But she said improvements for future operations could be made in relation to their scope, duration and secrecy.

Pointing to Hong Kong’s population density, Lam said it had been very difficult for authorities to conduct coronavirus testing with high levels of efficiency, given that thousands of residents lived in some 150 multistorey buildings within a tiny area.

Lam also pledged to review the weekend’s screening exercise to see if the length of time that residents were confined could be reduced.

Some health experts and critics had earlier questioned the effectiveness of the unprecedented lockdown in Yau Tsim Mong, where only 13 coronavirus infections were detected among the more than 7,000 residents tested, or a 0.17 per cent positive rate.

The city leader responded by saying the operation had been proven to be an effective tool and one her administration would deploy again.

She revealed that the personal details of about 200 residents who had not undergone mandatory testing during the operation had been handed to the Centre for Health Protection.

Lam noted the city’s lockdown operation was conducted under a very “inefficient or insufficient” framework, as the government did not possess the data of residents in each area, unlike the system in mainland China.

Officials’ only available strategy, she said, was to return without notice to buildings and check everyone as they left for proof of a negative Covid-19 test result. Those without the certification would have their personal details taken down for follow-up and possible punishment via fixed penalty tickets.

“But I really hope we do not have to talk about enforcement. This is public health,” she said.

Lam also revealed that the government had already located several areas that would need mandatory testing, with details to be announced soon.

Meanwhile, Kwun Tong district councillor William Li Wai-lam noted that almost 90 per cent of the residents living in Block 5 of Laguna City, where at least 10 infections were reported in the past two weeks, had been tested for Covid-19, considerably more than reported earlier.

On Monday, dozens of residents residing in flats marked “E” were evacuated from the block, as experts believed coronavirus might be spreading vertically through pipes or light wells in a “chimney effect”.

Professor Yuen Kwok-yung, who advises the government on the crisis, said at the time that the block, home to between 640 and 770 people, had seen just 463 complete mandatory coronavirus testing.

But Li on Tuesday clarified that Yuen’s figure covered only those who had gone to the testing centre, not the 160 others who used government collection packages to turn in their own specimens. Others had been tested at private hospitals or clinics, he added.

“So after rounding up the figures, there should be 90 per cent [who have taken the test],” he said.

Li said he hoped authorities would continue to do further inspections of pipes in the block to see if there were fundamental issues causing the virus to spread, adding the estate’s about 23,000 residents were staying extra vigilant.

“We are getting a bit unlucky with the cases… let’s just hope there won’t be other unrelated cases in the next 10 days,” he told the Post.

While compulsory testing had not been arranged for the estate’s management staff, most had already gone for voluntary testing within the past week, he added.

Authorities issued a partial evacuation order for Block 5 residents on Monday after the flurry of recent cases.

Two security guards, one of whom lived on Reclamation Street in Yau Tsim Mong district, were among the infected.


Category: Hong Kong

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