A member of Hong Kong’s top orchestra has been infected with Covid-19, and 100 musicians quarantined, raising fears about the risk of exposure to a concert audience that included the city’s leader and home affairs chief – although officials quickly dismissed those concerns on Tuesday.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, and Secretary for Home Affairs Caspar Tsui Ying-wai both attended the first concert by the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra after the reopening of cultural venues last Friday, a government source confirmed.
The Centre for Health Protection said an unnamed 35-year-old orchestra member had tested preliminary positive for the virus, after principal clarinettist Andrew Simon identified his colleague, Lorenzo Antonio Iosco, who plays bass clarinet, as the musician involved.
Get the latest insights and analysis from our Global Impact newsletter on the big stories originating in China.
But Lam’s office said she was not considered a close contact of the infected musician, as she had worn a mask throughout the performance, did not shake hands with any members, and left during the intermission. She was spotted sitting in the fifth row.
“According to the opinion of the Centre for Health Protection, the chief executive is not listed as a close contact,” the Office of the Chief Executive said in a statement. “She is suggested to take a Covid-19 test, wear a mask in public, and monitor her own health.”
Lam’s office added she had taken more than one virus test over the past two days. The chief executive is in Shenzhen, where she is expected to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping and other mainland officials on Wednesday during the celebration of the city’s 40th anniversary as a special economic zone.
The Post has been told other members of the orchestra have already received calls about being quarantined, and concerns have been raised about the health of Lau Wai, who also plays the clarinet, and is pregnant.
According to a message from the orchestra seen by the Post, Iosco visited the lobby, Starbucks, and multiple floors of the Hong Kong Cultural Centre.
The Leisure and Cultural Services Department said the Auditoria Building and the Concert Hall at the centre would reopen on October 16 and 25 respectively.
Sources said Iosco had performed twice last week, on October 9 and 10, and had rehearsed with other members of the orchestra for several days before the first concert. The department said he had not come into contact with any members of the public, and his body temperature was normal when he entered the cultural centre.
“We need to contain any potential risk for other performers and the audience,” a senior official said, adding the health authority would recommend more measures for future performances. “All members of the orchestra will have to undergo quarantine.
In a statement, the philharmonic said musicians and backstage staff had been quarantined, and its offices would close for two weeks. Scheduled performances on Friday and Saturday this week, and next week would be cancelled.
Hong Kong recorded eight new cases of coronavirus on Tuesday, taking the total number in the city to 5,201 with 105 related deaths.
The Post has been told neither Lam nor Tsui shook hands with the musicians, but Tsui spoke backstage with the conductor, Lio Kuokman. The meeting lasted less than 15 minutes, and both wore masks.
Tsui would be tested for the virus as soon as possible, officials said, while Lio left for France on Sunday.
Professor David Hui Shu-cheong, a Chinese University respiratory medicine expert and a government adviser on the coronavirus, said the risk of infection to audience members was low, as the viral air particles were unlikely to travel further than one or two metres.
“The transmission risk [comes from something] like having a conversation with a person, so musicians around him will be at risk,” he said.
Hui added that audience members who took photographs with musicians before or after the performance would also be safe if they had worn masks.
News of the infection sent ripples across Hong Kong’s classical music community.
The Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts asked teachers to find out which students had lessons with orchestra members in the past week, and how many of the philharmonic’s musicians had given lessons at the academy, including at which rooms.
Academy staff who were backstage at the concerts last week have been asked to get themselves tested for the virus.
Johnny Fong Hiu-kai, principal clarinettist at the Hong Kong Sinfonietta, said he was worried during rehearsals as musicians could not wear masks.
“I hope everyone can practise self-discipline and protect themselves well,” he said. “When they have symptoms, they shouldn’t be going to work.”
The infection is a major setback for the city’s flagship orchestra, which started its delayed 2020-21 season with a triumphant return on October 9.
The concert was sold out, but less than half of the 1,971 seats were occupied because of social-distancing rules and the entire section behind the stage was reserved for performers.
Most of the players wore masks, except for those playing wind instruments.
Both Hong Kong Ballet and the Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra, which also have performances set for this month, said they had yet to receive any notification from the government about venue closures and hoped their schedules would not be affected.
The philharmonic’s music director, Jaap van Zweden, is presently in quarantine after travelling back from the Netherlands.
Additional reporting by Olga Wong and Victor Ting
More from South China Morning Post:
- Day the music died: Hong Kong’s jobless musicians struggle as Covid-19 ban on live gigs remains
- Coronavirus: Thailand offers new extended-stay visas for Hong Kong, Macau, but quarantine leaves tourism sector’s travel bubble dreams on hold
- Dozens of Hong Kong university laboratory staff in quarantine after environmental samples test positive for coronavirus