Hong Kong authorities have said they are not considering using hotels to quarantine travellers as such places are “not ideal”, while tests on airport arrivals will be extended even to those with no symptoms, and conducted at the AsiaWorld-Expo.
On Friday, the city recorded a new high of 48 coronavirus infections, prompting medical experts to warn that the influx of arrivals from overseas had raised the risk of another surge in Covid-19 cases, bringing the pandemic to its highest level yet in Hong Kong.
Chinese University respiratory medicine expert Professor David Hui Shu-cheong on Saturday said the government should consider using hotels for quarantine to accommodate all arrivals.
Previously, Dr Leung Chi-chiu, of the Medical Council of Hong Kong, also raised similar calls to minimise the risks of a community outbreak.
Since Thursday, all arrivals to Hong Kong have been placed under a mandatory 14-day home quarantine.
But health minister Sophia Chan Siu-chee said the government had already set up a temporary quarantine centre at AsiaWorld-Expo to test travellers who complained of feeling unwell, and the authorities would not consider using hotels for quarantine at the moment.
“Our health experts regarded the expo as an appropriate venue, as it is very spacious and has good airflow,” she said on a radio programme.
Chan’s deputy, Daniel Cheng Chung-wai, said they were concerned about the air-conditioning systems and the carpets in hotels, which were “not ideal for a quarantine environment”.
“Manpower is also a concern – the hotels can only provide us with the venue, but their staff will not carry out our tasks,” Cheng said, adding that government workers, including those from the Civil Aid Service, had already been stretched to the limit.
Chan said to control the outbreak, the government would expand the random sampling scheme – testing even arrivals who show no symptoms of the viral infection. More than 200 deep throat saliva samples had been collected over the past two days.
At present, those aged 65 or above, or those who will be living in the city with elderly people are tested for the virus.
Chan said the government wanted to expand the testing scope among those without any symptoms, by asking all arrivals from certain high-risk areas to undergo tests in the AsiaWorld-Expo.
When asked if the government should temporarily ban all non-locals from entering the city, she said the number of overseas arrivals had dropped to 600 on Friday, almost half of that on Thursday, and was expected to decline further.
Hui, speaking on another radio programme, also asked the government to consider adopting more drastic measures, such as limiting business hours for bars and restaurants, after a few cases were traced to gatherings at Hong Kong’s famous nightlife hub in Lan Kwai Fong. The city’s infection tally as of Saturday morning stood at 256.
“If the trend continues, the government may need to reduce the opening hours,” he said.
But Chan said there was no relevant law to impose such bans, adding the best way to fight the pandemic was still to raise public awareness.
Still, she said the government would consider closing sports grounds and facilities under the Leisure and Cultural Services Department if the situation worsened.
Separately, the government announced that applications from domestic helpers to extend their stay in the city would be considered flexibly in light of the health crisis.
A spokesman, citing how arrivals and departures might be affected by the travel restrictions, said the Immigration Department would “exercise discretion depending on individual case merits”.
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