Coronavirus: parents decry ‘confusing’ decision to quarantine preschoolers; Hong Kong records 10 new cases

Kathleen Magramo
·7-min read

The parents of children from an affluent international preschool criticised what they characterised as the inconsiderate decision by authorities to send their children to quarantine camps, as Hong Kong recorded 10 new coronavirus cases on Thursday.

A class of 15 pupils aged between three and four from the Woodland Montessori Academy on Caine Road were ordered into quarantine after they were identified as close contacts of the three-year-old daughter of two US consulate employees who was confirmed as infected on Wednesday.

At least three parents told the Post they were very concerned and confused over the arrangements.

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One concerned mother, who wished to remain anonymous, said health authorities were being unreasonable, as she was breastfeeding her 1½-year-old daughter. She was also worried that her husband, who has type 1 diabetes, would not be able to receive adequate medical attention at the quarantine camp.

Six of Thursday’s 10 new cases were locally transmitted, including three linked to the superspreader Ursus Fitness cluster, pushing the total number of cases stemming from the gym to 135.

Three other cases, meanwhile, were untraceable. They involved a 15-year-old pupil at S.K.H. All Saints’ Middle School in Mong Kok, a 35-year-old woman who lives in Kennedy Town and a 36-year-old engineer who lives in Tsuen Wan.

There were four imported cases from the Philippines, Pakistan and Indonesia. The city’s official tally of confirmed cases now stands at 11,350, with 203 related deaths. About 10 preliminary-positive cases were awaiting confirmation on Thursday.

On Wednesday, the Centre for Health Protection (CHP) shut down the Montessori preschool in the affluent Mid-Levels area and issued a compulsory testing order after the three-year-old pupil there was confirmed infected.

All staff and students at the school, except those who were in the same class as the young girl, had undergone mandatory Covid-19 testing as of Thursday morning. Those from the same class, however, were not instructed to get tested by the CHP, their parents said, and would instead be sent to a quarantine camp.

Hong Kong preschool shuts, fresh lockdowns ordered

But the parents, who would accompany their children into quarantine, complained on Thursday that they were not given clear information on the arrangements, such as where they would be sent or what time it would happen.

“We were never told when we put our children back into school that they will go to a quarantine centre if one of their classmates tested positive,” said the mother of one four-year-old pupil.

The CHP in a statement on Tuesday said that decisions to send close contacts to government quarantine centres were made on a “case-by-case basis”, taking into account whether there were special needs for minors or pregnant women.

The government operates six quarantine centres for close contacts – four of them publicly owned facilities, and two of them hotels.

Separately, a health expert on Thursday urged officials to bolster the city’s inoculation campaign by expanding the range of jabs on offer to the public, while another suggested Hong Kong officials open talks with other governments on vaccine passports.

Dr Joseph Tsang Kay-yan, co-chairman of the Hong Kong Medical Association’s advisory committee on communicable diseases, said a wider choice would encourage more Hongkongers to sign up for the injections and bring the city closer to herd immunity.

The take-up rate for inoculation has been faltering amid persistent concerns about possible side effects, despite authorities not finding any direct links between the jabs and a number of deaths involving the recipients of Sinovac doses.

About 276,600 people have so far received their first dose since the start of the vaccination programme late last month. The take-up rate of people turning up to their appointments at community vaccination centres for the Sinovac vaccine was about 80 per cent, while BioNTech shots were around 90 per cent.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor on Wednesday said the government was considering how to accelerate the city’s vaccination drive by offering incentives such as exempting jab recipients from certain travel restrictions and social-distancing measures.

At present, only two coronavirus vaccines are available in the city – the Chinese-made Sinovac jab and one co-developed by the German firm BioNTech and US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer.

“The current measures so far have failed to effectively contain the Covid-19 outbreaks. Maybe we need more measures or ammunition to help Hong Kong achieve herd immunity,” Tsang told a radio programme.

“There should be sufficient choices of vaccines for people to choose. The government should contact pharmacies around the world to explore other options of vaccines, such as those which have released its data of the phase-three trials or those already approved by other countries.”

Tsang said giving the public more choice – such as offering jabs requiring only a single dose – would improve the situation.

Covid-19 jab incentives may work but restoring public’s trust vital, experts say

Amid calls for incentives to encourage greater participation in the scheme, he said the government could consider lifting closure orders on businesses if their staff had been immunised. “Those receiving the shots should also be allowed to visit the elderly nursing homes as well as the hospitals,” he said.

“But as to whether the vaccination could serve as a condition for relaxing social-distancing measures, such as regarding the number of people allowed per table in a restaurant, I think it depends on whether the pandemic has been brought under control,” he added.

University of Hong Kong microbiology expert Ho Pak-leung said that city authorities should negotiate resuming cross-border travel first with those countries running advanced vaccination programmes and looking to open up.

Ho said a “good starting point” for discussing vaccine passport policies with other governments was whether the jabs they offered had at least 50 per cent efficacy against Covid-19, based on the standards set by the World Health Organization.

He reckoned the health risks of allowing vaccinated people to travel without quarantine between two places were low.

“If there are still concerns about infections during travel or importing variant strains, countries can ask travellers to do pre- and post-flight Covid-19 tests to be sure, which is much more convenient than quarantine arrangements,” he told a radio programme.

But at a March 8 press briefing, Dr Michael Ryan, executive director of WHO’s health emergencies programme, advised against using vaccine certificates as a condition for international travel, citing ethical considerations given that coronavirus jabs were still not available in many parts of the world.

The Kwan Yick Building in Sai Ying Pun reopens on Thursday after an overnight lockdown. Photo: K. Y. Cheng
The Kwan Yick Building in Sai Ying Pun reopens on Thursday after an overnight lockdown. Photo: K. Y. Cheng

Meanwhile, the overnight lockdown of several city buildings did not uncover any infections following the testing of nearly 2,500 residents.

The lockdown orders for compulsory Covid-19 screening were issued on Wednesday night at Hoi Kung Court and Hoi To Court on Gloucester Road in Causeway Bay, and Phase Three of Kwan Yick Building in Sai Ying Pun, after some residents were found to be infected.

Officials said there was a higher risk of infection in the Sai Ying Pun building because of its age and the prevalence of subdivided units.

The government said compulsory testing on the Causeway Bay residential blocks was completed at about 8am on Thursday, with some 630 residents screened, as of 1am. One resident was required to give another sample.

About 1,800 residents had been tested in the Sai Ying Pun building, as of 2am. No confirmed cases were found.

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