Hong Kong recorded 41 new coronavirus infections on Sunday, as a fresh outbreak involving 11 construction workers at the Tseung Kwan O-Lam Tin tunnel prompted authorities to issue a mandatory testing order at the site again.
Up to 1,500 workers will have to undergo compulsory screening after a scaffolding supervisor was confirmed with the virus on Sunday and 10 of his colleagues tested preliminary-positive.
“The first case is unlinked to any existing cases, so we consider it a new outbreak,” said Dr Chuang Shuk-kwan, head of the communicable disease branch of the Centre for Health Protection.
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“The workers shared some changing facilities in the containers at the site, so it is possible in those environments, transmission may occur.”
Chuang said about a dozen workers shared one container to change and may also have taken lunch there. Leighton Asia managed the site, Chuang said.
The Post has contacted the company for comment.
The second outbreak at the tunnel came less than a week after the site reopened on December 27 following a cluster of 28 cases early last month.
Chuang said the authorities were again ordering work to stop. Construction of the more than 2km tunnel started in 2016 and is expected to end this year, shortening commute times between Kowloon West and Tseung Kwan O.
Another two residential buildings, Un Shing House at Un Chau Estate in Cheung Sha Wan and Fai Lam House at Tsui Lam Estate in Tseung Kwan O, were also issued with compulsory screening orders after two flats in each block recorded unrelated cases.
Just one of Sunday’s confirmed cases was imported, a 22-year-old student who returned from Britain and tested positive on the 12th day of quarantine.
The remaining 40 cases were locally transmitted, with 16 untraceable and 24 linked to previous infections.
Chuang said gene sequencing would be continuously carried out for all imported cases. So far, Hong Kong has detected 10 patients infected with the new virus strain from Britain and two cases of a variant from South Africa.
Hong Kong’s coronavirus infection tally stood to 8,964 cases, with 150 related deaths.
Dr Sara Ho Yuen-ha, a chief manager at the Hospital Authority, said four patients in United Christian Hospital would have to be quarantined after a 69-year-old man admitted for abdominal pain tested preliminary-positive.
Ho said the man had not worn his mask properly, but the four who shared a ward had so far tested negative and no medical staff were exposed.
Earlier on Sunday, a member of the government’s vaccination programme task force, Dr Thomas Tsang Ho-fai, said inoculating all Hongkongers against the virus would be a huge challenge but residents would hopefully be motivated to take the step by a desire for life to return to normal.
Tsang, a former head of the Centre for Health Protection, said residents should not worry about the safety of the vaccines, which would be made available next month, noting three levels of control measures were in place.
“The vaccines purchased by the government must also be registered and widely used in other countries as well, so Hongkongers will not be the ‘lab rats’ in this situation,” Tsang told a television talk show. “The 12 members of the advisory panel for Covid-19 vaccines have also been carefully conducting scientific analysis of each type of available drug before approving its use in the city.”
The third safety guarantee was a programme carried out in cooperation with a local university to monitor adverse reactions, he said.
Last month, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said the city had acquired 22.5 million shots from three sources, which would be sufficient for all 7.5 million residents. The first million doses would be administered to health care workers, carers in homes for the elderly and people with disabilities, and residents aged 85 years or above.
A government source said the first shots to be used would be from whichever of the three brands arrived first.
The city has purchased 7.5 million doses from mainland China supplier Sinovac Biotech, and the same number of shots of a vaccine jointly developed by Germany’s BioNTech and US-based Pfizer, secured via mainland firm Fosun Pharma. A further 7.5 million shots will be procured from pharmaceutical firm AstraZeneca.
Critics have expressed concerns over procuring vaccines linked to the mainland, but Lam has warned against politicising the issue.
Tsang said he believed residents would want the inoculations for their own health and the good of society. “If they want to travel or go to certain places to work, they might even need to have proof of immunisation, so I think the desire to get the shots is there,” he said.
Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung also touted the safety of the vaccines in his blog on Sunday. “The government will be open and transparent so residents can have clear information about the vaccines,” he said.
Cheung also warned infections could rise again after the holiday season, which saw authorities issue 729 fines to people violating social-distancing rules between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Day. He said 108 venues were being investigated for breaching the measures, while 75 fines were issued at areas where domestic helpers frequently gathered on their rest days.
The Food and Environmental Hygiene Department said it had conducted joint operations with police to enforce social-distancing rules in Southern district, Yau Tsim, Wong Tai Sin, Kwun Tong and Sai Kung on Saturday, inspecting 974 catering premises and 169 other establishments. Prosecutions were started against five businesses.
Meanwhile, the government has set up a website where residents can download the results of their coronavirus tests by entering their ID number and the number on their sample collection bottle.
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