Coronavirus: fears over workplace transmission as Hong Kong woman, husband confirmed with Covid-19 and two of her colleagues test positive

Zoe Low

Health authorities in Hong Kong are investigating a possible workplace transmission of Covid-19 after a woman employed at an imported food warehouse was confirmed with the coronavirus on Sunday, while two of her colleagues tested weak positive.

The husband of the 34-year-old woman was also confirmed with the disease on Sunday, ending the city’s more than two-week run without a local coronavirus infection. Hong Kong’s tally of confirmed cases now stands at 1,084.

Speaking at a daily press briefing, Dr Chuang Shuk-kwan, head of the Centre for Health Protection’s communicable disease branch, said the two other women who tested weak positive had been sick much earlier, between April 25 and 27, and did not rule out the possibility of workplace transmission. Neither of them had any travel history.

“As the two women who tested weak positive had symptoms earlier than the confirmed patient, there is a chance of a transmission chain within the warehouse,” Chuang said. “But we are still investigating the exact path the virus was passed.”

The three women worked the night shift at a Kerry Logistics warehouse in Kwai Chung labelling pre-packaged fruit and vegetables from the United Kingdom. Their other 25 colleagues will be sent to quarantine centres.

Up to 100 other people who worked in the same building will also be asked to give samples for testing.

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Meanwhile, Dr Sara Ho Yuen-ha, the Hospital Authority’s chief manager for patient safety and risk management, revealed at the briefing that three of the emergency medical staff who attended to the woman when she was first sent to hospital had not been wearing the full set of protective clothing.

“The patient was already in critical condition when she first arrived at the accident and emergency department and was losing consciousness, so some medical staff volunteered to help,” she said. It was later discovered that a doctor, a nurse and a medical assistant had not worn protective gowns. Ho said they would be quarantined for 14 days as close contacts of the confirmed patient.

The last time a local infection – a patient with no recent travel history – was reported was on May 14.

The husband, 56, and wife in the newest case live in the Lek Yuen Estate in Sha Tin with the husband’s sister, Chuang said. The woman is on a ventilator in the intensive care unit of the Prince of Wales Hospital in Sha Tin. The sister, who has shown no symptoms, has been sent to a quarantine centre.

The wife had visited a private doctor in Lek Yuen estate three times before she began feeling chest pains and was sent to the hospital on Saturday. The doctor was treating her for an upper respiratory tract infection as she did not have any travel history, Chuang said.

The general practitioner and his staff will now be asked to give throat samples, while Chuang has reminded private clinics not to let their guard down with patients with respiratory symptoms, saying they should arrange for them to be tested for Covid-19.

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The husband, who is unemployed, developed a fever on Saturday night and was subsequently sent to hospital. While earlier reports said he lived at a separate address in Nam Cheong, both Chuang and Ho clarified that the man said he lived only at the Sha Tin estate.

Both of the wife’s colleagues live at Kwai Luen Estate in Kwai Chung. Chuang said the health authorities would arrange for other residents at both housing estates to receive virus testing.

Health authorities have said the outbreak can only be considered under control if no new cases have been reported for at least one or two incubation periods, meaning two weeks to a month.

Chuang said the government would take into consideration the risk of a sudden outbreak in deciding whether to continue social-distancing measures, which include limiting public gatherings to 8 people. Those measures are set to expire on June 4.

“I think the local transmission chain has never fully broken,” he said. “There have always been hidden sources and it will be difficult for us to be able to find all the cases.”

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