Coronavirus: public health experts urge Hongkongers not to panic as hundreds line up for Covid-19 screening in Tai Po

Victor Ting
·5-min read

Public health experts urged Hongkongers not to panic as hundreds of Tai Po residents lined up to get tested for Covid-19 on Monday, amid fears of a community outbreak in the area.

The city recorded six new coronavirus cases on Monday, all of them imported, involving travellers from Britain, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Russia and Saudi Arabia. But bigger concerns remained over a potential spread in Tai Po, where nine infections have been reported over the past seven days.

Seven of those cases were linked to a staycation holiday in Mui Wo, while the remaining two had untraceable origins. The latter involved a local barman and an office worker whose wife is a primary schoolteacher who tested preliminary positive on Monday.

Get the latest insights and analysis from our Global Impact newsletter on the big stories originating in China.

Hong Kong officials dismiss community outbreak fears after barman is among three new Covid-19 cases

The government has arranged for free screenings in the area, with mobile-testing stations near Kwong Fuk Estate, where three patients live, and a mobile van distributing deep throat saliva sample collection bottles among local residents. On Monday, health authorities extended the screening time from 5pm to 8pm.

At about 3pm, more than 100 people queued up for screenings at the estate’s volleyball court.

A 30-year-old man surnamed Chan, who works in marketing, said he decided to get tested after hearing about a confirmed Covid-19 case at A Inn Club, a bar in Tai Po.

Tai Po residents line up outside a temporary Covid-19 testing centre at Kwong Fuk Estate. Photo: Sam Tsang
Tai Po residents line up outside a temporary Covid-19 testing centre at Kwong Fuk Estate. Photo: Sam Tsang

“I met a friend near the bar a few days ago,” he said. “I don’t think the community outbreak is that serious yet, but I still wanted to check, just to feel safe.”

Tammy Lee, 60, a pier assistant who lives in Wang Fuk Court, also chose to get tested, as it was her day off.

“Since this area had a sudden surge of cases, I feel a little worried as I have to go out and work,” she said. “We also don’t know where the confirmed cases have been over the last few days, so it’s better to get tested.”

Retiree Yuen Kai-Sun, 70, queued for more than half an hour with her 10-year-old grandson to get a sample test kit. They both live at Kwong Fuk Estate.

“We’re not too worried, but the outbreaks [in Hong Kong] have been going on for very long. We are taking the tests to feel more reassured,” Yuen said.

While the government’s voluntary testing stands may encourage people to get tested, it won’t be able to catch the source of infection

Ho Pak-leung, microbiologist, University of Hong Kong

There were about 70 people in the queue for tests at Fu Shin Community Hall as of 4.45pm.

Infectious disease experts agreed that small and localised outbreaks had occurred in Tai Po with possible invisible chains of transmission still undetected. But they said residents need not panic, as seven of the nine recent infections were connected.

“The situation is a lot less severe than what we saw in Wong Tai Sin during the third wave, where there were many unrelated cases emerging every day,” said Professor David Hui Shu-cheong, a Chinese University respiratory medicine expert who advises the government on pandemic control.

Another respiratory medicine specialist, Dr Leung Chi-chiu, said the severity of the outbreak in Tai Po would depend on whether secondary transmissions would emerge from places – such as the local bar and a school – visited by infected patients.

“It also depends on how quickly new cases are found, so I urge residents to get tested at the mobile facilities,” he added. Separately, Dr Ho Pak-leung, a microbiologist from the University of Hong Kong, told a morning radio programme what made the situation more worrying was that two of the confirmed patients in the district had been diagnosed with Covid-19 more than 10 days after first showing symptoms.

“They were both out and about in the community, eating out during this period. So, there is some amount of risk here,” he said. “While the government’s voluntary testing stands may encourage people to get tested, it won’t be able to catch the source of infection,” he added.

‘Hong Kong’s Covid-19 cases blocking Lam’s bid to restart cross-border travel’

Ho said if the government wanted to implement mandatory testing for any restaurant or bar-goers who might have come into contact with confirmed cases, it would also need to set up a registration system so customers could be traced later.

Meanwhile, infectious diseases expert Dr Joseph Tsang Kay-yan warned that though the screening in Tai Po would be helpful in containing a small outbreak, mandatory testing for everyone in the district might be necessary if infections continued to rise.

The Education Bureau said it would provide free testing to teachers and staff in about 80 kindergartens, primary and secondary schools in the district. It expects to deliver the sample collection bottles this week.

Monday’s cases took the city’s Covid-19 tally to 5,380, with 107 related deaths.

Additional Reporting by Zoe Low and Chan Ho-him

More from South China Morning Post:

This article Coronavirus: public health experts urge Hongkongers not to panic as hundreds line up for Covid-19 screening in Tai Po first appeared on South China Morning Post

For the latest news from the South China Morning Post download our mobile app. Copyright 2020.