Hong Kong public services will return in full next week, the government said on the eve of social distancing rules being relaxed and as mass testing identified two more Covid-19 cases.
Senior health officials urged residents to minimise contact with others even as the overall trend for low numbers of new coronavirus cases continued on Thursday, with 12 confirmed infections.
Revealing that all public services would be back by Tuesday, a government spokesman said: “The epidemic situation has stabilised this month. Taking into account the needs for the functioning of society, government departments will resume normal public services.”
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Local services have been returning gradually since late August, with staffed counters reopening at some departments, after all but essential ones were suspended from July 20 amid the city’s third wave of infections. The government said measures for reducing social contact would be in place.
Dr Chui Tak-yi, undersecretary for food and health, urged Hongkongers to exercise caution as Covid-19 curbs covering some leisure facilities and other areas are eased from Friday.
“The public and businesses operators should carry out preventive measures, and pay extra attention to the risks when masks are removed when carrying out activities,” said Chui, who added that the average number of cases reported daily in the seven days between August 20 and 26 was 21.1.
That dropped to 13.7 for the period of August 27 to September 2, and 10.1 over the week to September 9, the official added.
Among the city’s 12 coronavirus cases confirmed on Thursday, two restaurant workers, aged 39 and 57, pushed the tally of detections through the voluntary screening programme to 21. The sources of the pair’s infections are not known.
The 39-year-old woman took the test on Monday before accompanying her five-year-old son to Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Yau Ma Tei and Hong Kong Eye Hospital in Kowloon City on Tuesday and Wednesday.
The boy has since tested preliminary positive for the coronavirus and is with his mother in Queen Elizabeth Hospital.
“Her son underwent the surgery at the eye hospital on September 9, and it was during the surgery that we got notified that his mother was a confirmed case,” said Dr Lau Ka-hin, a chief manager of the Hospital Authority.
Lau said both the son, who first tested negative for the coronavirus before his surgery, and the mother were found on Thursday to have Covid-19 antibodies in their blood.
The existence of antibodies suggested that the patients could have been infected and since recovered, he added.
He said no staff or patients in the two hospitals were identified as close contacts of the mother and son. Neither were those at the Causeway Bay restaurant, where the mother worked, counted as such, said Dr Chuang Shuk-kwan, head of the Centre for Health Protection’s communicable disease branch.
The other case uncovered by citywide testing was a 57-year-old woman who worked as a waitress in Yuen Long. She gave a sample at a testing centre in the district on Tuesday.
The 12 cases recorded in total on Thursday marked a slight rebound of Covid-19 cases in the city, after only six cases were confirmed on each of the previous two days. Those were the lowest daily figures since July 3.
Seven of Thursday’s infections were imported and included five people arriving in the city on the same Air India flight on September 8. The other two were a domestic helper from the Philippines and an arrival from Iran.
Starting from Friday, restaurants will be able to seat four diners to a table, up from two, while the same increase would apply to the number of people allowed to gather in public.
Businesses and other enterprises given the nod to reopen also include museums, mahjong parlours, ice skating rinks, as well as most indoor and outdoor sport facilities, but not swimming pools or beaches.
As of Thursday, the city’s total number of coronavirus infections stood at 4,913, with 99 related deaths.
Separately, the suspension of trials for a potential Covid-19 vaccine, jointly developed by pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca and Oxford University, is unlikely to affect the city’s procurement plans, according to government advisers for the city’s coronavirus response.
Undersecretary Chui said it was normal for trials to be suspended during the development of vaccines.
Meanwhile, the government said a fourth company, China Inspection Medical Laboratories Limited, had been hired to test samples taken during the mass screening programme.
Secretary for the Civil Service Patrick Nip Tak-kuen, who is coordinating the voluntary scheme, said the company would mainly be in charge of handling samples from the city’s outlying islands.
As of Thursday evening, 1.53 million people had been tested for the virus, Nip said, while some 3,500 people had been screened twice.
More from South China Morning Post:
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This article Hong Kong public services to fully return next week as mass Covid-19 testing reveals two hidden cases, the day before social distancing rules relax first appeared on South China Morning Post