Coronavirus: Hong Kong faces resurgence of imported and community-spread infections as it confirms 16 new cases

Chris Lau

Hong Kong was facing a resurgence of imported as well as community-spread coronavirus infections on Thursday as it confirmed 16 new cases, taking the city’s total to 208.

Health authorities said they would investigate the possible spread of Covid-19 in the bars, restaurants and gyms of Lan Kwai Fong, as at least five coronavirus patients confirmed in the last two days had links to the nightlife hub.

Most of Thursday’s new cases – 11 men and five women, aged 19 to 51 – had a history of travel to Europe, Britain and Canada, which are now among the Western destinations from which Asians returning home across the region are bringing a second wave of infections.

A civil servant working at the North Point Government Offices was among more cases testing positive in preliminary screening.

Another preliminary positive case involved a 57-year-old patient who ate at Princess Margaret Hospital’s canteen before he sought treatment at its accident and emergency unit. The canteen was later disinfected.

Close to midnight, banking giant Goldman Sachs revealed that a worker at its Hong Kong office was listed as a “highly probable case of Covid-19” and sent to hospital. The bank said it would close two floors of its Cheung Kong Center office in Central until further notice.

A source said the staff member was an investment banker.

Dr Chuang Shuk-kwan, head of the communicable disease branch of the Centre for Health Protection, said at least three of the new cases had connections with the Lan Kwai Fong area. Two other patients confirmed a day earlier were also recent visitors to the Central nightspot.

“We are looking at whether there is a spread among bars and restaurants in Lan Kwai Fong,” she said.

Chuang also confirmed that two of the new infections, both involving 29-year-old men, could be traced to the Pure Fitness gym in Central. Both had a history of travel to Singapore or Japan, but this was before the two-week incubation period that coronavirus infections are assessed by.

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Another new confirmed patient had been to Lan Kwai Fong to drink with his friends before he was diagnosed.

On Wednesday, a clerk from the Canadian International School and her friend were among the confirmed cases. Both had visited the Soho drinking and dining hotspot.

Asked if Lan Kwai Fong should be shut down as a precaution, Chuang said the area was not of particular concern, and problems would only arise if people gathered in large numbers there.

“There are higher risks if people are not wearing masks inside these places,” she said, urging citizens to stay home.

Tycoon Allan Zeman, the dominant landlord in Lan Kwai Fong, told the Post it was tough maintaining a balance between protecting public health and keeping struggling enterprises alive.

“Our concern is that there are many young people who returned from overseas this week, and hopefully they won’t come out during the 14-day quarantine period,” he said.

In a message to its members, Pure Fitness said one of the men confirmed to be infected had visited three branches in Central – Pure Fitness California Tower in Lan Kwai Fong on March 11, Pure Fitness ICBC Tower on March 14 and Pure Fitness Kinwick Centre on Monday.

The man had not taken any group or yoga classes, but did have one-on-one personal training sessions, the company said, and the trainer was now under quarantine.

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The three centres in question were closed with immediate effect for two weeks and would reopen on April 2, the company said, while staff, including trainers, who had contact with the infected man would be quarantined. All other branches would remain closed for the next two days for deep cleaning.

Among Thursday’s confirmed cases was a 32-year-old patient identified as the first pregnant woman in Hong Kong to be infected with the coronavirus. Sixteen weeks pregnant, she developed a fever and a runny nose after returning from Italy and Dubai.

Health officials said there was no evidence the virus could lead to miscarriage or spread to the fetus, but the birth could be premature.

Hongkongers have been rushing back to the city. Photo: Jonathan Wong

The city on Wednesday confirmed 25 new infections, the most recorded in a single day, as Hongkongers rushed to beat a midnight deadline for the government’s toughest quarantine measures yet against Covid-19.

Starting from Thursday, all arrivals from overseas into Hong Kong must undergo 14-day self-isolation at home or in quarantine centres followed by two weeks of medical surveillance. Arrivals from mainland China are already required to self-isolate at home.

A surge of arrivals at Hong Kong International Airport early on Thursday met new rules that had just come into force, including a requirement to wear tracking wristbands so they could be monitored.

Officials said dozens of people had reported feeling unwell upon arrival since Wednesday night and had been taken to different public hospitals.

Medical experts called for even tougher measures, such as putting a stop to home quarantines and barring all arrivals from overseas.

Dr Leung Chi-chiu of the Medical Council said the home-quarantine arrangements were “absolutely not ideal”, considering the outbreaks in Europe and North America.

“As many are students studying abroad … if they return home for quarantine, there are risks of affecting elders at home who are more vulnerable to the virus,” he said.

He suggested hotels provide room for them, and urged the government to liaise with the ailing industry.

Some 14 hotels have offered a total of at least 1,000 rooms to help house returners requiring isolation, responding to growing concerns that existing quarantine facilities could be overwhelmed within weeks by the influx of Hongkongers escaping countries struggling to battle the pandemic sweeping the world.

“Hong Kong is facing a new wave of public health risks of import-related Covid-19 infections,” the city’s No 2 health official, Dr Chui Tak-Yi, said.

In the past two weeks, he noted, 92 per cent of the 88 new cases had links to overseas travel.

Chui urged those who had arrived before Thursday to stay home for 14 days, and called on Hongkongers overseas with symptoms to seek help where they were instead of flying to the city.

The government was open to the suggestion of using hotels for quarantine, Chui said, although home isolation was still a preferred option, given the large volume of people returning.

Chui also confirmed that the government was considering using one more block in Chun Yeung Estate in Fo Tan, which could provide an extra 400 quarantine units. From April to June, another 1,000 units could be available from four camps, including one in Penny’s Bay near Disneyland.

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Some 1,000 testing flasks were handed out on the first day for those returners who did not show symptoms but preferred to be tested, he said.

Dr Linda Yu Wai-ling, a chief manager of the Hospital Authority, said the feasibility of using AsiaWorld-Expo or North Lantau Hospital to screen people would be explored.

The hospital on Lantau could be used to collect samples from the elderly, while AsiaWorld-Expo could handle returning travellers.

She said 45.7 per cent of the city’s 954 isolation wards were full.

Additional reporting by Denise Tsang

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