Four lockdowns imposed in Hong Kong for mandatory Covid-19 screening have so far identified no new infections, with residents testing negative allowed to leave the restricted areas for work early on Tuesday.
Officials cordoned off buildings in Tsim Sha Tsui, Hung Hom, Yau Ma Tei and Yuen Long on Monday, and ordered a partial evacuation at a large middle-class Lam Tin housing estate after determining the coronavirus was spreading there via a light shaft in one of its buildings.
Health authorities also confirmed 34 new Covid-19 cases citywide on Monday, three of which emerged in a designated testing zone in Jordan and another in a similar area within Sham Shui Po. Five infections were imported and eight were untraceable. About 20 people tested preliminary-positive.
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The city’s tally of confirmed cases stood at 10,486, while another elderly resident succumbed to the disease, taking the number of related deaths to 182.
The four lockdowns were officially lifted at about midday on Tuesday after more than 1,600 residents had been tested. More than 100 households could not be reached, according to health authorities.
Residents testing negative for the coronavirus were free to leave the restricted zones from 6.30am for work purposes.
Using a mobile testing facility, authorities had hoped to test all residents of Majestic House at 80 Nathan Road in Tsim Sha Tsui by midnight, as well as those in Loong King Mansion at 23-35 Ma Tau Wai Road in Hung Hom and Ho Choi Building at 42-58A On Hing Street in Yuen Long by 2am Tuesday.
Residents in an area of Yau Ma Tei, bounded by 142-148 and 150-160 Reclamation Street, 59A-59C Public Square Street and 2A Wing Sing Lane, were also barred from leaving while testing was carried out. Authorities had aimed to finish that operation by midnight.
The lockdown orders came hours after the city’s chief secretary said the government could issue “at least one lockdown operation per day in various districts” to cut transmission chains. All four places have confirmed one infection over the past two weeks.
Authorities previously said they aimed to lift the lockdowns by 7am on Tuesday. Any residential buildings with a single untraceable case would also be given a compulsory testing notice.
A man who only gave his name as Cheung, and who lives in the Yau Ma Tei lockdown zone said: “I hope that this won’t affect my work [the next morning], and my daily schedule. We don’t have a choice. We can only cooperate.”
In the affected area in Tsim Sha Tsui, a shopkeeper of a camera store on the ground floor displayed food supplied to him by authorities. He had to spend the night in the shop with colleagues.
“The food is enough. There’s no need to keep warm tonight as it’s warm today,” he added.
Earlier, new Centre for Health Protection chief Dr Ronald Lam Man-kin announced all residents of flats “4” and “5” on the 19th floor and above of Block R at Luk Yeung Sun Chuen estate in Tsuen Wan would be quarantined after an inspection by infectious disease expert Professor Yuen Kwok-yung.
Lam estimated that fewer than 100 people would be affected by the isolation order, which covered just 24 flats, although residents of nearby Block D would be ordered to undergo mandatory testing.
Over the past two weeks, 12 infections were reported in seven units in Block R, Lam said, while information from the centre also showed three cases had emerged in Block D.
Residents of Block R were previously ordered to take mandatory virus tests on January 26, and those living on the 18th floor were sent into quarantine after infections were found in at least four of the eight flats there.
Lam said the percentage of Block R residents already screened was very high, with 536 out of 538 tested, but officials and experts concluded the additional measures were needed after finding structural and design issues with the block.
Yuen said virus particles exhaled by three infected residents living in flat 1805 had entered a 10-metre deep, 2-metre wide light shaft in the centre of the building. The aerosolised particles were then blown back into the corridor and lift waiting area on the same floor, infecting other residents.
“The light shaft is the deepest I’ve ever seen,” Yuen said. “The virus can stay and survive there for a very long time, especially now that it is under 15 to 20 degrees Celsius these days.”
The health expert said he feared a vertical upwards spread could continue under the “chimney effect” in the shaft, and the “prudent” evacuation decision was reached as some infected residents could develop symptoms after a previous negative test result.
Experts also uncovered other structural issues in the block, including alterations made to toilet pipes in some flats.
Asked how Hongkongers living in similar high-rise buildings with deep shafts could protect themselves, Yuen admitted it was difficult to know whether similar transmissions were taking place, but said residents should shut windows in toilets and kitchens facing the shafts at all times. All other windows should be opened to increase ventilation, he added.
Earlier on Monday morning, residents of Laguna City, one of Hong Kong’s largest private middle-class housing estates, were grumbling as they raced to work and school after a surprise overnight lockdown ended 40 minutes later than the scheduled 7am. The government barred people living in Blocks 5 and 7 of the estate from leaving so testing could be carried out in the fourth such operation initiated by health authorities in the past nine days.
No infections were found during the operation, but 15 cases were discovered between January 18 and 29.
It’s a waste of taxpayers’ money, the amount spent on this exercise was much larger than the benefit
Laguna City resident
“It’s a waste of taxpayers’ money. The amount spent on this exercise was much larger than the benefit,” a Block 5 resident surnamed Wong told the Post. “I also don’t feel much safer. People will still go out. They might be fine today, but you never know what happens when you go somewhere else the next day.”
Although Wong was late for work, she had already made her employer aware of the reason. “I’m just very frustrated with the whole situation,” she said.
Two men were arrested during the Laguna City lockdown, according to police. A 64-year-old was detained for unruly behaviour after shouting outside Block 13 and refusing to comply with verbal warnings, while a 27-year-old was arrested for assaulting a Home Affairs Department clerk with a mobile phone after he was tested.
Residents queued throughout the night for a second round of testing, and Secretary for Food and Health Professor Sophia Chan Siu-chee was confronted by angry residents who told her to “get out” when she arrived for an inspection.
Health experts were split over the need for the lockdown, with Professor David Hui Shu-cheong, who advises the government on the pandemic, saying it was justified given that 15 cases was a large number.
But Dr Leung Chi-chiu, a specialist in respiratory medicine, questioned if there was a need for it at all.
“The situation there has already lasted more than 10 days. The government should rethink whether this action was needed,” he said. “If the mobility of the residents there is not especially high, a simple mandatory-testing order and inspections after that should be enough.”
As of 2am on Monday, 460 residents had been tested, although officials were unable to contact the occupants of about 60 households despite door-to-door checks. Authorities urged those residents to get in contact as soon as possible for testing.
But other residents said they agreed with the government action, despite the inconvenience.
“They had to do their job, and ultimately it did not affect me,” said a Block 7 resident named Chow, who works in property management.
Lee, who lives in Block 5 and was discharged from hospital after recovering from Covid-19 just two days ago, was also supportive of the lockdown.
“I think it is better for other people who have not been infected before and don’t have antibodies to get tested. I’m a special case,” he said. “It is a bit of a bother though, and I can understand the anger of the other residents.”
Lee said he had also been asked to take a test again, a request which he respected. “The only inconvenience was I couldn’t go and collect food my friend had brought for me. I had to ask some security guards to help,” he said.
Three public housing estates were issued with a mandatory testing order: Tun Man House at Oi Man Estate in Ho Man Tin; Yat Man House at Ho Man Tin Estate; and Block 1 of Ka Lei Lau at Ka Wai Chuen in Hung Hom.
Authorities also ordered residents at four private housing estates to undergo screening. They were: Block 1 at 63 Pok Fu Lam Road; a block at 66-66A Parkes Street in Jordan; Sing Fai Building on Wilmer Street in Sheung Wan; and Wiseman Building at 11-17 Fort Street in North Point. Residents of Diamond Building on 95-99 Cheung Sha Wan Road in the specified area in Sham Shui Po also had to get screened.
At an afternoon press conference, Dr Chuang Shuk-kwan, head of the Centre for Health Protection’s communicable disease branch, revealed that about 45 to 50 residents, as well as some staff members, at the Salvation Army Nam Shan Residence for Senior Citizens in Sham Shui Po would be quarantined after a resident tested preliminary-positive for the virus.
Additional reporting by Danny Mok
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