Health officials have reclassified a hotel cleaner’s coronavirus infection as linked to an imported one, meaning Hong Kong’s run of zero local Covid-19 cases, now at 28 days, remains intact.
The city confirmed just one imported Covid-19 infection on Monday, an arrival from Britain, while a local health expert warned that a plan by Singapore to shift away from a zero-case strategy could leave Hong Kong exposed to a higher risk of variant strains when its long-awaited travel bubble with the city state finally launched.
In another development, the US consulate in Hong Kong said it would close its offices on Tuesday for disinfection after an employee tested preliminary-positive for Covid-19.
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“The US Consulate General takes seriously Covid-19 prevention and containment. Out of an abundance of caution, while we await confirmation test results, we have closed our offices on Tuesday, July 6, 2021 to perform a deep disinfection,” it said in a statement on Monday evening.
It is not the first Covid-19 scare involving the consulate, as a couple working there and their daughter tested positive in March.
The Centre for Health Protection, meanwhile, said genetic sequencing of a virus sample from the part-time cleaner who worked at the Bridal Tea House Hotel, a designated quarantine hotel, in Yau Ma Tei was the same as that of gene fragments taken from a domestic helper from Indonesia.
The cleaner, 41, was last week confirmed with the more transmissive L452R variant, which has been linked to several coronavirus mutants, including the Delta one first reported in India.
The helper had earlier stayed in the hotel, with the employee assigned to cleaning her room.
The cleaner was initially classified as a local case with an unknown source.
The last time Hong Kong recorded a community case was on June 7, when a 20-year-old woman, whose younger sister contracted the Alpha variant locally, was confirmed as infected.
In a separate development, the city will also allow more than 2,000 visitors who have had to remain in Hong Kong because of the pandemic to receive Covid-19 vaccinations from July 6 as long as they have valid travel documents.
They can bring their travel documents, landing slips or extension of stay labels issued by the Immigration Department to any post office, where staff will help them to make an appointment at one of the 29 community vaccination centres.
“On public health considerations, providing vaccination for these other visitors will help prevent the spread of the virus in the community and thus enhance Hong Kong’s overall anti-epidemic capability,” the centre said in a statement.
The city’s Covid-19 death toll rose to 212, after a patient succumbed on Sunday, seven months after being hospitalised. The Hospital Authority said the 78-year-old man, who had chronic illness, was admitted to Kwong Wah Hospital for treatment on December 4 last year after testing positive for the virus.
The city’s latest confirmed case was an 18-year-old student who arrived from Britain last Wednesday, bringing the city’s total to 11,943 infections. Fewer than five preliminary-positive cases were recorded.
Medical experts warned that Hong Kong had to be more cautious about imported cases.
That came after three Singaporean ministers unveiled a strategy shift last month, aiming for a “new normal” that presumed the virus was endemic and would be treated more like the flu going forward.
These plans included a shift away from monitoring daily cases and providing “multi-year” vaccine booster shots, like those given for the flu virus.
But University of Hong Kong microbiologist Ho Pak-leung on Monday noted Singapore’s plan was premised on the success of its vaccination campaign, under which at least 60 per cent of the population had so far received at least one dose.
Hong Kong’s own drive had encountered far more reluctance among its population, he said.
As of Monday evening, 32 per cent of the city’s 7.5 million population, had got their first dose while 21.6 per cent had received two shots.
“Singapore’s reopening of the tourism bubble and the exemption of passengers from quarantine may have little impact on Singapore, but it could have a much greater impact on Hong Kong,” Ho told a radio programme.
Tourism sector lawmaker Yiu Si-wing said if there was a possibility of the virus spreading because of the travel bubble arrangement, it could hinder the chances of the border with mainland China and Macau reopening.
“Although more people are already vaccinated in Singapore, it doesn’t mean the virus can’t spread,” he said.
After two failed launches due to a rise in community cases in both cities, the governments of each have said they plan to review the travel bubble as early as this month.
Under the quarantine-free scheme announced in April, travellers in either direction would have to undergo screening before departing and after arrival, although only Hong Kong would require its residents to be fully vaccinated for eligibility.
The bubble will be suspended for two weeks if the seven-day moving average of unlinked Covid-19 cases in either city exceeds five.
Additional reporting by Christy Leung
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