The number of Covid-19 infections in Hong Kong surpassed 5,000 on Saturday after 13 new cases emerged, one involving a university laboratory researcher working with coronavirus samples.
Health experts urged the public to remain vigilant, pointing to the disease’s continuing spread in the community and warning the city must brace for another wave of infections this winter.
Despite the grim milestone, Hong Kong has managed to drive down the number of daily cases from more than 100 in July into the low double and single digits. But predicting the direction of the pandemic remained difficult, according to Dr Chuang Shuk-kwan, head of the communicable disease branch at the Centre for Health Protection.
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“We are seeing unknown cases every now and then,” she said. “From the universal community testing, we understand that there are a certain number of [hidden] cases in the community which are difficult to be picked up, so with the increase in social activities … it is possible that there may be some more cases coming and it is even possible to see a wider spread in the community.”
Chuang urged residents to continue to wear masks, wash their hands often and practise social distancing as much as possible.
Three of the four latest local infections were untraced, while nine cases were imported, involving arrivals from Ukraine, Argentina, India, and the Philippines. The city’s official tally stands at 5,009, with 103 related deaths. More than 10 people also tested preliminary positive on Saturday, including several arrivals.
One of the new untraced cases involved a research assistant helping with data entry and analysis of genetic sequencing of the coronavirus at the University of Hong Kong’s School of Public Health.
The woman, who lives in Sai Ying Pun, dealt with virus samples that were not contagious and there was no indication transmission occurred at work, Chuang said, explaining why the infection was classified as from an unknown source.
About nine researchers work in the laboratory and are tested every Thursday, according to Chuang.
“Apart from working and staying at home during the past weeks, the researcher also had gatherings with her friends,” she said. “One of the colleagues who shared a computer with her was tested but the result was negative.”
About 330 sample collection bottles had been distributed to others working in the same building.
Six people, including colleagues of the woman and her friends, were deemed close contacts and placed in quarantine.
The university’s Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine said there was no proof the infection was related to the laboratory, noting the woman’s other team members had been given the all-clear.
The other two untraced infections involved a 23-year-old Indonesian domestic helper, who lived with her employer at Villa Oceania in Ma On Shan, and a 79-year-old retiree who resided at Yau Oi Estate in Tuen Mun.
“The domestic helper stayed at home most of the time and rarely went out or went to markets,” Chuang said. “But on September 14 … she went out to shop with two Indonesian helper friends in Mong Kok, and they ate in Sham Shui Po and Tsim Sha Tsui.”
The retiree developed a fever on September 11 and during the incubation period visited a shopping centre at Yau Oi Estate, where she ate breakfast.
Dr Joseph Sung Jao-yiu, a gastroenterologist and former president of Chinese University, earlier said Hong Kong needed to prepare for a fourth wave by keeping border controls tight.
“I’m worried that there will be a fourth wave in winter,” Sung said. “It is now hard to predict how big it will be or how many people could be infected, but our checkpoints will need to be relatively strict. Border control is a very complicated issue because no country or region can decide it on its own. I believe that our government has been making an effort on that.”
Sung said authorities needed to pay attention to social-distancing rules for public places, such as restaurants and karaoke bars, as well as elderly care facilities. All but three border checkpoints in Hong Kong have been closed since February.
Authorities are carrying out checks to determine whether businesses and residents were abiding by the relaxed social-distancing rules. On Friday, they made about 2,070 inspections related to catering businesses, issuing 18 reminders. Authorities performed more than 3,400 inspections related to the ban on public gatherings of more than four people.
More from South China Morning Post:
- Coronavirus: Hong Kong’s fourth wave ‘could be the worst yet’ as city aims for enough Covid-19 vaccine shots to cover double city’s population
- Coronavirus: Hong Kong to launch second round of Covid-19 testing for high-risk workers
This article Hong Kong Covid-19 caseload surpasses 5,000 mark after 13 new infections emerge first appeared on South China Morning Post