Hong Kong on Wednesday recorded eight new Covid-19 cases, including one locally transmitted infection at a care home for the elderly which sparked the evacuation of dozens of its residents.
Health care workers in protective gear arrived at Yuen Long Home for the Elderly on Fung Cheung Road around 10pm to help escort residents into minibuses, after a 71-year-old female resident tested positive for Covid-19 with the source untraceable.
The facility was the 18th care home for the elderly to be hit with a coronavirus outbreak.
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Health authorities said the woman had only moved to the care home on September 21. Sixty-one residents of the home and 19 staff were sent to the community treatment facility at AsiaWorld-Expo, near the city’s airport, for quarantine.
From previous experience, the disease can be very infectious especially in a home for the elderly
Dr Chuang Shuk-kwan, Centre for Health Protection
There were no preliminary cases among other residents so far, according to Dr Chuang Shuk-kwan, head of communicable disease branch at the Centre for Health Protection.
“From previous experience, the disease can be very infectious especially in a home for the elderly, so we cannot exclude further cases coming from the home,” she said at a press briefing. “Usually the outbreaks are related to the community, if there are still unknown cases in the community, there will be a risk.”
The woman’s case was the only local one identified on Wednesday. The remaining seven were imported – three from Britain, two from the Philippines and one each from Russia and India, taking the city’s tally to 5,087.
Following a government instruction from July that family members should not be allowed to visit those living in the homes, many people were hoping the guidelines would be relaxed on Thursday during the Mid-Autumn Festival.
But Kenneth Chan Chi-yuk, chairman of the Elderly Services Association of Hong Kong, said the government had not told his organisation of any such relaxation.
“The outbreak at the Yuen Long home is a warning to us that we cannot lower our guard,” he said on Wednesday.
Video footage showed some of the Yuen Long care home residents in wheelchairs and on stretchers being taken away by ambulance on Tuesday night.
Chuang said the woman who tested positive had antibodies for the virus in her blood, proving that she might have been infected before moving to the home. She had lived with her family in Kwun Tong before moving. Sample bottles would be sent to her home in Kwun Tong and the building where the Yuen Long facility is located.
The patient was first admitted to Pok Oi Hospital in Yuen Long before being transferred to Tuen Mun Hospital.
Revealing the results of a survey of 65 care homes conducted earlier this month, Chan said 55 per cent of respondents wanted the government to do coronavirus tests on residents and employees regularly.
“And those who are newly admitted to care homes should be tested before they are admitted,” he said.
One-third said the government should also offer one-off subsidies to care homes and carers.
Chan said that, as of April, there were about 6,000 job vacancies across the 765 care homes in the city. Some carers had resigned over fears about catching Covid-19 and it had been a challenge to find people to fill the labour shortage, Chan said.
He suggested the government increase the quota of non-local carers that care homes could hire through the Supplementary Labour Scheme.
The association said more than 100 care home residents, as well as 33 carers and their family members, had been infected with the coronavirus. More than 80 of the infected residents lived in private care homes and the rest in government-subsidised ones.
Chan said many of the infected citizens lived in small private homes, which were usually more overcrowded so the coronavirus could spread much faster.
At present, the statutory minimum floor space for each care home resident is 6.5 square metres (70 sq ft). The Social Welfare Department had earlier proposed that it be raised to 8 square metres for homes that had elderly residents who needed a low or medium level of care, and 9.5 square metres for those who needed a high level of care.
University of Hong Kong infectious diseases expert Professor Yuen Kwok-yung had earlier suggested that it would minimise the coronavirus spread if it went up to 8 square metres.
On this, Chan said some of the new care homes could already offer 8.5 to 9.5 square metres. Those which could not do so once the new requirements went into effect could have to shut.
Separately, infectious diseases expert Dr Joseph Tsang Kay-yan said care home visits should only be gradually resumed when there were consecutive days of zero locally transmitted infections.
He recommended implementing a strict monitoring system when visits were allowed again, including requiring visitors to make appointments and wear protective clothing before entering the facility.
Tsang also urged the government to investigate the outbreak at the Yuen Long care home as soon as possible.
“Outbreaks at care homes for the elderly may not be limited to one facility. Sometimes it can involve one to two care homes in succession because they’re linked. We have to wait and see if the situation gets worse,” he told a radio programme.
The third wave of mostly locally transmitted Covid-19 infections, which erupted in July, has taken a heavy toll on the elderly.
The Centre for Health Protection has previously reported four large clusters of 10 or more infections linked to care homes. They are: Kong Tai Care for the Aged Centre, in Tsz Wan Shan, with 46 cases; Cornwall Elderly’s Home (Golden Branch), in Tuen Mun, with 40; the Salvation Army Lung Hang Residence for Senior Citizens, in Tai Wai, with 15; and Sham Shui Po King Fok Nursing Home, with 14.
Cornwall Elderly’s Home had the highest mortality rate at 27.5 per cent, while the rest stood at about 20 per cent.
The government has pledged to regularly test high-risk groups, including care home employees, in a bid to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
More from South China Morning Post:
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- Hong Kong-mainland China border could reopen soon as city seeks to recover from Covid-19
- Cathay Pacific CEO calls for Hong Kong to adopt faster Covid-19 testing method in bid to kick-start planned travel bubbles
This article Hong Kong care home evacuated after resident’s positive Covid-19 test, as city reports eight new cases first appeared on South China Morning Post