Hong Kong fourth wave: one unlinked coronavirus case in residential block, two of any kind in workplace to spark mandatory tests as city toughens approach

Elizabeth Cheung
·5-min read

Key points

  • Officials aim to cut down the number of new infections by Lunar New Year under a more aggressive testing approach, so Hong Kong may see at least one lockdown a day

  • Compulsory testing for residential blocks with a single untraceable case and workplaces with two cases or more; same for places with sewage samples containing virus traces

  • Compulsory testing for close contacts of infected household members

  • Face-to-face classes will be increased but only half-day learning at schools at most

  • Outdoor sports with less physical contact will reopen Thursday

Hong Kong has adopted the most stringent Covid-19 screening approach yet with mandatory testing required for every residential building with a single untraceable infection and any workplace with two infections of any type.

The new regime, aimed at driving down the daily caseload to less than 20 by Lunar New Year, came into effect immediately, health officials said on Monday. They also ordered four more lockdowns – involving buildings in Tsim Sha Tsui, Hung Hom and Yuen Long, as well as an area in Yau Ma Tei – in order to screen residents, with the operations expected to end by 7am Tuesday.

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Authorities confirmed 34 new Covid-19 infections, eight of which were untraceable and five imported. About 20 more people tested preliminary-positive for the virus. The city has so far confirmed 10,486 coronavirus cases, with 182 related deaths.

Chief secretary Matthew Cheung (centre) at a lockdown zone in Yau Ma Tei. Photo: Sam Tsang
Chief secretary Matthew Cheung (centre) at a lockdown zone in Yau Ma Tei. Photo: Sam Tsang

Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung warned that the fight against the pandemic was at a “critical point” and at least one lockdown a day could be expected going forward.

“We hope to adopt a more aggressive approach in the next two weeks so we can consider relaxing social-distancing rules after Lunar New Year,” the city’s No 2 official said.

The daily lockdowns would be on a scale similar to the operation at Tung Fat Building in North Point or the Laguna City private residential estate in Lam Tin.

“In the coming 10 days … we will be more extensively and frequently targeting areas with more cases, buildings of poor quality or those with sewage samples testing positive for the virus,” Cheung said. “Our aim – before a transmission chain is formed in a building – is to swiftly test everyone there.”

But he warned that some operations might not uncover any infections.

Partial evacuation, mandatory Covid-19 testing at another large housing estate

The government will also track and order compulsory testing of household members of anyone classified as a close contact of a Covid-19 patient, although the start date was not given.

The daily caseload has been trending downwards since last week, but the number has fluctuated between 28 and 53 in the past four days. According to a government source, the pandemic would only be considered under control when the number fell below 20, ideally by Lunar New Year in the middle of this month. Social-distancing measures set to expire on Wednesday will be extended for two more weeks.

Under the heightened screening strategy, seven buildings across various districts are to be issued mandatory testing orders, but no workplaces have been affected yet. A testing order will also be issued to any location where sewage samples with traces of the virus are found.

Health minister Professor Sophia Chan Siu-chee said the tighter testing threshold would help stop the spread of the virus.

“We really want to be ahead of the epidemic curve,” she said. “We want to find these cases … before they form a transmission chain in the community.”

Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor revealed that no residents had skipped mandatory testing carried out at Laguna City overnight into Monday morning. But as many as 200 people missed the recent required screening ordered in Jordan, while five did so in Yau Ma Tei and 15 in North Point.

Officials also announced outdoor sport facilities where users engaged in less physical contact would reopen on Thursday and a partial resumption of more face-to-face classes was expected after the Lunar New Year holiday. They would run a half-day at most to prevent pupils from eating at schools. Education minister Kevin Yeung Yun-hung said meetings would be held with schools to discuss details and he hoped more information would be announced this week.

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Infectious disease expert Professor David Hui Shu-cheong, who advises the government on the pandemic, said the latest package of measures were the most stringent yet to combat the virus, but they might not push daily infections down far enough for business and leisure venues to reopen before the holiday.

“It could take some time as daily trends have still been zigzagging in the last few days,” Hui said.

Dr Leung Chi-chiu, a specialist in respiratory medicine, called for more efforts to encourage voluntary testing.

“You have to make it much more accessible in every part of the city, with longer opening hours and shorter waiting times and turnover for results, and fix any hiccups or delays in notifying people of results,” Leung said.

Meanwhile, Macau announced that 100,000 vaccine doses produced by Chinese mainland pharmaceutical firm Sinopharm would arrive this week at the earliest and inoculations could begin around Lunar New Year.

In Hong Kong, Chan revealed that the manufacturing process for the first 1 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to be supplied to the city had been completed and testing for safety and quality was under way. She said the doses were expected to be delivered in the second half of this month.

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