HK fourth wave: mandatory testing of residents in about 70 more buildings, as 56 new coronavirus cases logged

21-Jan-2021 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 6:02 AM Print This Post

Hong Kong health authorities have ordered mandatory Covid-19 testing for residents of around 70 buildings in the Yau Tsim Mong district even if no new infections are found in them, in a ramped-up effort to contain a worsening outbreak that is threatening to engulf the wider community.

Officials on Tuesday said citywide social-distancing measures would be extended for at least another week, as they reported that 31 out of 56 newly confirmed infections came from the stricken district which is home to many ethnic minority families crammed into old tenement buildings.

Undersecretary for Food and Health Dr Chui Tak-yi said it was still too early to talk about relaxing social-distancing measures, including bans on public gatherings of more than two people and dine-in services at restaurants after 6pm.

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“There are some prerequisites if we hope to significantly relax the measures, such as if the number of local cases drop to single digits and can be maintained for a period of time,” Chui said. “Currently there is still some distance from this indicator. I believe it is too early to talk about whether we would relax those measures.”

Twenty-three of Tuesday’s new cases were untraceable, and only one was imported. Fifteen of the new local cases came from a crowded Yau Tsim Mong neighbourhood that has been placed under tougher testing requirements since Saturday.

While 22 cases, or 40 per cent of the new infections, were identified among ethnic minority members of South Asian origin, officials stressed they were not being singled out for blame or discriminated against.

More than 60 other people tested preliminary-positive, including about 30 identified through screening in Yau Tsim Mong.

Officials also stepped up border controls, adding arrivals from Brazil and Ireland to an entry-ban list in an effort to keep out a more infectious strain of the virus circulating in those countries.

Authorities have stepped up monitoring of a large section in Jordan to control a growing outbreak, requiring mass screening of residents in any building in which even a single case is found.

More than 13,400 residents from at least 37 blocks had already been tested. With the new mandatory screening order, officials were now focused on finding any hidden infections within a smaller “core area” bordered by Pak Hoi Street, Temple Street, Ning Po Street and Reclamation Street.

“Some buildings in this core area have a poorer environment… or have more confirmed cases,” Chui said. “There are around 70 buildings in this area. No matter if there are not any confirmed cases there, those buildings would be issued with mandatory testing order.”

Officials would monitor a building’s sewage to determine whether compulsory testing was required for its residents. The order would be issued if samples were found to contain the virus for two consecutive days or twice over a three-day span, Chui said. Already, two buildings had met the threshold.

Compulsory testing was ordered for residents in three more buildings in Yau Tsim Mong, at 1 Temple Street, 197 Shanghai Street and Wai Ching Court on 36 Wai Ching Street.

Authorities also placed a neighbourhood in Sham Shui Po under tighter screening, where a single in a building case will trigger mandatory testing. The area is bordered by Yen Chow Street, Tai Po Road, Maple Street and Lai Chi Kok Road.

A growing cluster at a Chai Wan residential block that appears to be spreading through vertical transmission has forced additional people into quarantine.

More residents at Hiu Fung House at Fung Wah Estate were to be evacuated after 24 people from the block were sent into isolation the day before after infections emerged in three of five flats numbered 13 on floor 12 and below it.

But a resident living higher had now tested preliminary-positive and another person from a flat of a different number was among the latest confirmed cases.

“After looking into the matter with experts, we think that there might be a danger of upwards transmission of the virus,” said Dr Chuang Shuk-kwan, head of the communicable disease branch of the Centre for Health Protection. Residents from all flats numbered 13 above the 12th floor would be sent for quarantine.

Earlier on Tuesday, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor appealed for calm a day after the city’s Covid-19 caseload surged back into triple digits, vowing to step up compulsory testing in virus-hit districts.

Officials confirmed 107 cases citywide on Monday the highest since 109 infections were recorded on December 19 with 28 of them revealed through testing in Yau Tsim Mong district.

“I understand people might find the recording of more than 100 cases worrying,” Lam said. “But the spike could have been triggered by the strengthening of compulsory testing.”

But respiratory medicine expert Dr Leung Chi-chiu expressed concern about the rebound in cases, noting the seven-day average was five times higher than a week ago.

He suggested the government should tighten social-distancing rules, including requiring people to wear masks while exercising outdoors, controlling the flow of people in shopping malls and reviewing testing arrangements for large workplaces.

The city has so far recorded 9,720 confirmed infections and 165 related deaths.

The latest victim was a 67-year-old man who succumbed to the disease in Pamela Youde Nethersole Eastern Hospital in the afternoon.

Meanwhile, a 75-year-old man who sparked a citywide search after he was reported missing from a care home for the elderly on Saturday was found in a congee shop on Sham Shui Po’s Castle Peak Road on Tuesday morning. He was sent to the airport’s AsiaWorld-Expo facility for quarantine, according to police.

A spokesman said the man left the care home on Yen Chow Street at around 3pm on Friday, one day before a fellow resident tested positive for Covid-19 and all staff and tenants were sent for quarantine.

Separately, Lam warned that new unemployment figures due on Tuesday afternoon would be grim, but reiterated the government had no plans to extend the Employment Support Scheme, given the toll placed on city coffers already under previous relief measures.


Category: Hong Kong

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