Hong Kong reported two more coronavirus cases late on Monday, both evacuees from the Diamond Princess cruise ship, adding to the five confirmed infections earlier in the day and bringing the city’s total to 81.
Of Monday’s seven confirmed cases, four are passengers evacuated from the ship quarantined in Japan. The latest cases are a man and a woman, both aged 57, who showed no symptoms of Covid-19.
One of the other passengers, a 58-year-old woman, had felt throat discomfort while she was on the ship, but had tested negative at the time. She tested positive upon her return to Hong Kong. The fourth passenger is a woman, 59.
Two women who attended a Buddhist worship hall in North Point linked to a string of cases were also confirmed with the coronavirus, said Dr Chuang Shuk-kwan, head of the communicable disease branch of the Centre for Health Protection.
Monday’s other case is a 35-year-old businessman who last returned from mainland China on February 7, one day before a mandatory quarantine on everyone arriving from across the border was imposed. He drove to Shenzhen and back, and had remained at home since February 8.
Five patients were also discharged from hospital on Monday, bringing the total number of those who had recovered to 19.
The latest cases now mean five Hong Kong people evacuated from the cruise ship have contracted the coronavirus.
Meanwhile, two women, aged 68 and 57, are the fifth and sixth to contract Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus, after attending Fook Wai Ching She Buddhist worship hall in North Point this month.
The 68-year-old visited the temple, located in the Maylun Apartments building on King’s Road, between February 1 and 6, and on February 8, Chuang said. She developed symptoms last week and was being treated at Queen Mary Hospital in Pok Fu Lam.
The 57-year-old had been to Osaka from January 26 to 31, and visited the Buddhist hall on January 25 and between February 1 and 6.
Four people were earlier confirmed as infected after visiting the worship hall.
More than 100 people had called the government’s coronavirus hotline to say they had visited the hall, and 16 of them, including the temple master, had been sent to quarantine camps, Chuang said. Another 100 were under medical surveillance.
Chuang said there were difficulties in tracing all worshippers who visited the hall since early February, including some who may already have recovered or were reluctant to contact the authorities.
“There’s no registry in the temple, so it’s a bit difficult to trace all of the worshippers,” she said at a daily press conference. “Some worshippers may not know each other. We can only rely on the media and urge [worshippers] to contact the Department of Health … We hope they will call us to avoid a further outbreak.”
The hall had large prayer sessions on the first and 15th of the first month of the Lunar New Year, where volunteers gave out joss sticks and worshippers gathered together to pray and eat, Chuang said.
She said the volunteers had reported wearing masks during the sessions but the authorities believed they would not have them on while they ate.
The four cruise passengers had been evacuated from Tokyo on the second chartered flight on Saturday. The government had chartered three flights since Thursday with 193 evacuated passengers in total arriving back in Hong Kong.
The four were among 12 passengers who were sent to hospital upon their return. One of the 12 was the first confirmed case among evacuees, one was still awaiting test results while six others tested negative for the virus.
All passengers tested negative when they left the cruise ship. Chuang said the ship itself was considered a place affected by the virus, so all passengers were considered potential contacts and could still develop symptoms within the incubation period.
“It’s not about the sensitivity of the test [in Japan]. But because it is within the incubation period, the patients may still develop symptoms,” Chuang said. “This is a special group.”
At least 101 of the 369 Hongkongers who were on board the Diamond Princess were still in Japan as of Monday, according to Immigration Department figures. They included 70 people who had contracted Covid-19 and were admitted to hospital. The other 31 had close contact with the confirmed cases and were still under quarantine.
Of the 70 patients, the Department of Health said it had contacted the doctors of 16 of the more severe cases in four hospitals, including of four who were in critical condition as of Sunday. Another two patients were in serious condition.
Undersecretary for Security Sonny Au Chi-kwong said the government aimed to bring back home at least the 31 people under quarantine and was still considering if a fourth charter flight could be scheduled, but a timetable was not yet ready.
Director of Immigration Erick Tsang Kwok-wai added that his department would send more representatives to Japan, in addition to about 10 officers who were already there. He said the aim was to have a team present at each of the 31 hospitals where Hongkongers had been admitted to provide help if needed.
Among the five people discharged in Hong Kong on Monday, one, a 68-year-old woman who was the city’s second case, was previously in a serious condition and had been sent to intensive care, Dr Sara Ho, the Hospital Authority’s chief manager for patient safety and risk management, said. The others discharged were the 17th, 30th, 36th and 47th cases.
There have been two deaths from the disease in Hong Kong.
The authority on Monday rolled out special daily allowances to 25,000 frontline medical workers involved in treating confirmed or suspected coronavirus patients.
They would be given HK$500 (US$64) or 20 per cent of their daily base salary, whichever was higher, backdated to January 25. The total amount of allowances was not immediately clear.
Earlier, the Hong Kong Buddhist Association urged temples to avoid or even cancel gatherings to minimise the risk of a community outbreak.
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