Medical experts have called for a review of coronavirus testing strategies for dock workers and domestic helpers, as Hong Kong confirmed 36 new cases on Tuesday.
Covid-19 also killed two more patients as the city marked its 16th straight day with fewer than 100 daily infections. The latest fatalities brought the death toll to 71, while the overall case tally stood at 4,560.
The ongoing health crisis has also forced the government to prolong the use of three housing blocks in Chun Yeung Estate in Fo Tan as a quarantine facility until the end of the year.
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Authorities were racing to contain clusters of Covid-19 cases among workers at Kwai Tsing Container Terminals, the city’s biggest port facility, and domestic helpers staying in boarding facilities.
But Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said on Tuesday the testing work was insufficient.
Health officials had handed out specimen bottles to 8,000 dock workers, and tested about 2,600 as of Monday night, while the collection of samples was continuing.
For helpers, only about 900 specimen bottles had been collected since the measure was announced on August 6, but Lam said there would be around 6,000 workers who were in the process of switching employers and staying in boarding facilities.
“We hope they will submit those specimen bottles as soon as possible so we can know the infection situation,” Lam said.
Professor David Hui Shu-cheong, a government adviser on the pandemic response, said the authorities should make virus testing mandatory for both groups.
“The response rate is too low, and this could hamper epidemic prevention work,” Hui said.
He said the Department of Health could use its powers to make higher-risk groups undergo testing on public health grounds.
“If you let them get specimen bottles but they are not required to return them, then this may pose a major obstacle to epidemic control,” he said.
Respiratory medicine expert Dr Leung Chi-chiu believed the low response rate among the dock workers was mainly because of the slow distribution of bottles rather than the employees being uncooperative.
But he said the strategy of testing domestic workers at boarding facilities should be changed.
“Many dorms are not officially registered, and their operations might be illegal. They might not be cooperative or helpful in tracing [workers who had stayed there],” Leung said.
Instead, the government should approach employers who had recently hired a helper to locate them for testing.
All but one of the latest cases were locally transmitted. Among them was a dock worker employed by Wang Kee Port Operation Services, which has now been linked to 41 infections. A security guard working at terminal No 2 also tested preliminary positive. Between 10 and 20 of his colleagues who had shared facilities such as resting rooms would undergo quarantine.
More than 20 others tested preliminary positive, including a 64-year-old patient at Yan Chai Hospital.
Dr Chuang Shuk-kwan, head of the communicable diseases branch at the Centre for Health Protection, said it was not yet clear where the guard contracted the virus.
“Apart from the location where he worked as a security guard, he also used the resting room at terminal No 5,” Chuang said. “The source of his infection could be there but also possibly from the community, where the outbreak is ongoing.”
The port cluster has become the largest of the current wave of infections, with 65 cases across 11 companies to date.
Chuang said all of Wang Kee’s employees had been isolated and tested. She said other companies only had “sporadic cases”, involving one to three infections, and suggested voluntary testing would not change unless there was a major outbreak.
The two Covid-19 patients who died on Tuesday suffered from long-term illnesses. One was a 95-year-old male resident of King Fok nursing home, the third Covid-19 death from the care home in Sham Shui Po linked to at least 14 infections. The other was a 64-year-old woman who was in a cluster of cases in a medical ward at Queen Elizabeth Hospital.
University of Hong Kong microbiologist Professor Yuen Kwok-yung, meanwhile, noted the most recent wave of Covid-19 infections had provided lessons for the city.
“First of all we now know that having groups of travellers exempted from quarantine was a bad thing, which resulted in the virus spreading into communities,” Yuen told a radio programme, referring to exemptions for seafarers and others, which were only removed last month. “It is very likely the outbreak at Kwai Tsing Container Terminals was also caused by contact between port workers and crew members.”
He also urged the government to implement targeted measures at venues where people were more likely to take off their masks, such as restaurants.
“The scientific community is now quite sure there is short-range airborne transmission of the virus, so restaurants in particular should consider improving air flow or even figure out ways to filter and disinfect the air,” he said.
The government extended the ban on eating in restaurants at night, along with other social-distancing rules, for a week until next Tuesday. Fourteen types of premises will also remain closed.
More from South China Morning Post:
- Workers crammed into windowless containers at Hong Kong’s busiest port sleep in dorms that are ‘hotbeds’ for Covid-19 during third wave
- Hong Kong bans Air India from flying to city for two weeks over imported Covid-19 cases
This article Medical experts in Hong Kong call for review of Covid-19 testing on dock workers and domestic helpers in dorms as officials race to contain infection clusters first appeared on South China Morning Post