A Hong Kong airport worker has tested preliminary-positive for Covid-19, potentially ending the city’s 50-day streak of zero local infections.
The development emerged as an industry insider on Thursday said the government’s new pilot scheme to ramp up vaccination rates among residents of care homes for the elderly was receiving a positive response.
Local health authorities also confirmed eight new imported cases involving arrivals from Pakistan, Nepal and the Philippines.
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The latest infections took the city’s overall tally to 12,251, with 213 related deaths.
A more worrying situation centred on Hong Kong Air Cargo Terminals Limited, confirming an earlier Post report that health officials were investigating one of its employees, who tested positive for the coronavirus in the morning.
The 48-year-old man, who works as an airport cargo handler, had undergone weekly Covid-19 testing as part of his job requirements. He had tested negative on September 29 but a sample he submitted on Wednesday was found to be preliminarily-positive for the L452R mutant strain, the Centre for Health Protection said.
He tested negative for the N501Y and E484K strains.
The asymptomatic patient had no recent travel history and mainly worked at SuperTerminal 1, which handles air cargo. The man, who last worked on Thursday, was vaccinated on June 25 and July 28.
In a related development, the authorities locked down Golden Glory Court, where the airport worker lives, in Sha Tin’s Golden Lion Garden at 7pm for compulsory testing of residents. The operation was expected to finish at about 6am on Friday.
Hong Kong has gone 50 days without a confirmed local infection – since a 47-year-old airport lounge worker tested positive for Covid-19 in August. In that case, some experts suggested the woman might have been infected by transit passengers rather than in the community.
Respiratory medicine specialist Dr Leung Chi-chiu said it was no coincidence that the last few local cases, including the lounge worker and another staff member at the cargo company, came from areas in contact with the outside world.
“The airport has always been the highest-risk area due to the amount of international cargo and passengers that go through it every day,” he said.
Leung said authorities should not drop their guard and keep testing airport workers twice a week, “especially if they are vaccinated”, as being inoculated would reduce symptoms and make infections harder to detect without regular screening.
Meanwhile, Grace Li Fai, chairwoman of the Elderly Services Association of Hong Kong, told the Post that her care home in Yuen Long, one of 10 enrolled in the Social Welfare Department scheme, expected to see vaccination rates jump from 26 to 50 per cent among some 140 residents by the end of the programme.
The government has shifted the vaccination process at participating care homes into an opt-out scheme, meaning residents will be inoculated unless they or their family members explicitly object.
“About 10 to 11 family members of residents immediately told us to go ahead with the jab. Some others expressed interest in attending our health talks to get more information,” Li said. “Only a tiny minority rejected the proposal outright.”
Li said she expected the scheme to be extended to all facilities in the city once the pilot programme finished in November if “the figures were good”.
To date, more than 4.5 million people, or 67 per cent of Hong Kong’s population aged 12 and above, have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine.
But that figure drops to 40 per cent for those in the 70-79 age bracket, and just 14 per cent for those 80 and older.
In neighbouring Macau, meanwhile, a recent outbreak involving four construction workers appears to have stabilised, as officials concluded a three-day compulsory screening drive in which no infections were detected among 681,579 samples. Authorities there said public services would resume from Friday.
Macau authorities also announced on Thursday that they would begin administering Sinopharm jabs to 12- to 17-year-olds.
Additional reporting by Danny Mok
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