Hong Kong reported 19 new Covid-19 cases on Friday, after the city’s vaccination drive was given a boost with the arrival of 300,000 BioNTech doses for the programme’s relaunch next week.
The slight rebound in daily cases came as people who had visited MCP Central, a shopping centre in Tseung Kwan O, in the past two weeks were ordered to go for mandatory Covid-19 testing, after two infections were linked to the mall.
Cathay Pacific flight CX288 from Frankfurt landed with the shots at about midday ahead of Monday’s planned resumption of the BioNTech programme, following a 12-day suspension over defective vials in the city’s original supply of the vaccine.
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The fresh batch of BioNTech doses will be the first to be used when the programme resumes.
Of Friday’s infections, seven were locally transmitted, while one was untraceable. The remaining 12 were imported, and involved arrivals from Indonesia, the Philippines, Pakistan, Botswana, Canada and Ireland.
The city’s total number of confirmed cases rose to 11,499, with 205 related deaths. Several cases of preliminary-positive infections were also recorded on Friday.
The unlinked case involved a 33-year-old unemployed man who lives in Tseung Kwan O.
Officials said the man frequently bought takeaway at MCP Central, including at two restaurants on the upper ground floor, where an earlier confirmed case had done renovation work, but at a different eatery.
“We cannot rule out possible transmission between these two cases, that’s why we ordered a compulsory testing notice for all those who have stayed in this mall … as a precautionary measure because there are not many local unlinked cases in these few days, but we did find two who had visited the same mall,” Dr Chuang Shuk-kwan, of the Centre for Health Protection, said.
The order affects those who visited the shopping centre between March 19 and April 2, and stayed for more than two hours. They will need to undergo testing by Monday.
Goodwill Management Limited, which manages the mall, said it would be closed between 10pm on Friday and 3pm the following day for thorough disinfection. MCP Central currently has 201 staff members and 228 shops.
It was the second shopping centre to have a mandatory testing order imposed on it, after staff and visitors at K11 Musea in Tsim Sha Tsui were required to get checked in late February following an outbreak at a restaurant there.
The patient who was Friday’s sole untraceable case also played seven-a-side football on March 17 at Sun Yat Sen Memorial Park in Sai Ying Pun. So far about 11 other players from the game have been identified and will be quarantined.
He also went to a Namco game centre with his family at the PopCorn shopping centre in Tseung Kwan O on March 23. The game centre will be disinfected and staff have been advised to get tested.
Two family members of a previously confirmed case in Block B of Kwan Yick Building Phase Three were also among the latest local infections.
On Wednesday, about 50 residents living in flats directly above and below each other were quarantined over fears of vertical transmission, because another family of three living one floor below the latest cases became infected around two weeks ago.
So far, six people from two flats in the block have been confirmed as infected.
Hong Kong’s fourth Covid-19 wave has shown signs of easing recently since its emergence last November, prompting the government to relax some social-distancing measures before the start of the Easter holiday on Friday.
Swimming pools and beaches have been allowed to reopen, while cinemas, theme parks and performance venues can now admit more people.
While crowds were spotted at some local attractions on the first day of the long weekend, Chuang urged the public to be mindful of where they went.
“If there are too many people, you still have to queue up in crowded places with poor ventilation; it is not good,” she said. “If you need to have a gathering, try to minimise the number of people.”
On the eve of the five-day holiday, police swept party rooms across the city overnight and fined almost 300 individuals for breaking Covid-19 rules on public gatherings. At least 19 people were arrested.
Under existing social-distancing measures, party rooms have been ordered to close, as have bars and karaoke lounges.
In the largest single operation, officers raided an industrial building in Wong Tai Sin’s Ng Fong Street on Thursday night, where they found 65 men and 50 women attending a music concert in a 1,200 sq ft party room. The force said the venue offered food to the 115 party goers, aged 19 to 25, all of whom were fined HK$5,000.
Officers also arrested four men, aged 19 to 21, suspected of being responsible for holding the concert.
Distribution of the BioNTech vaccines was abruptly halted last Wednesday on the advice of its supplier after the scheme’s frontline staff reported more than 50 instances of defective vials, including cracks, leaks and stains on their exterior.
The city government has said that problems in the process of sealing vial caps might have caused the defects.
So far 471,400 people, or 6.3 per cent of the city’s population, have received their first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine. Another 59,800 people, or 0.8 per cent of the population, have taken their second shot and are fully vaccinated.
Additional reporting by Danny Lee, Lilian Cheng and Christy Leung
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