Orchestral musicians must test negative for the coronavirus before performing in public under a proposal being discussed by Hong Kong officials, after an infection within one of the city’s top ensembles triggered mass quarantining.
The talks on introducing the mandatory screening of concert musicians emerged on Wednesday as a medical source revealed a handful of new preliminary positive Covid-19 cases in Hong Kong, but said the confirmation of new infections was delayed by the previous day’s tropical storm.
Only one of those preliminary cases, involving the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra musician, was of unknown origin, the source added.
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The Centre for Health Protection (CHP) on Wednesday urged those attending the performances on Friday and Saturday to monitor their condition and undergo Covid-19 testing if they felt unwell, even though they were not deemed close contacts of the infected.
Health authorities have ordered about 100 members of the orchestra into quarantine after bass clarinettist Lorenzo Antonio Iosco was said to have tested preliminary positive for the coronavirus on Tuesday, following a performance last week attended by Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor.
The Chief Executive Office said on Wednesday night that Lam’s latest Covid-19 test result was negative, and staff from her office who went to the show with her would also be screened.
“Internally, officials involving various departments are considering testing players before performances. We won’t rule out subsidising the test for them,” a government insider said on Wednesday, with the cost of a PCR test currently ranging from HK$300 (US$39) to more than HK$1,000.
“We have learned that musicians are willing to take further measures as long as they can continue to perform.”
The insider added: “It is irrational to close down everything [because of the infection of one orchestra member], but we also need a good balance. Hong Kong can continue to live with the new normal if everyone is willing to do a bit more in the fight against this virus.”
Iosco performed at a concert last Friday attended by both Lam and Secretary for Home Affairs Caspar Tsui Ying-wai, who a source said was tested on Wednesday morning and awaiting his result.
The CHP said on Wednesday the 35-year-old musician performed in the concert hall of the Cultural Centre in Tsim Sha Tsui on Friday and Saturday.
He developed a fever on Sunday and sought medical advice from the North Lantau Hospital and Union Hospital in Sha Tin the following day, later testing preliminary positive for the coronavirus.
The musician lived in Coastal Skyline phase one in Tung Chung. His family members had so far not developed any symptoms and had already been sent to a quarantine centre.
Specimen bottles for testing would also be distributed at the building where he lived. “As the patient could not wear masks during performance, more than 90 musicians who performed on the same stage together were considered as close contacts and were being arranged for quarantine,” the centre said.
Officials added that more than 50 backstage staff involved in the two performances did not have contact with the patient and wore masks. The centre would arrange virus testing for them.
While the audiences of the two performances were not deemed close contacts, the centre urged them to monitor their physical condition and see a doctor as soon as possible if they started feeling unwell.
“Even if they do not have any symptoms, they should make use of the free virus testing services currently available,” the centre stated.
The centre also said that no new infections had been confirmed from samples processed on Tuesday due to services being affected by Tropical Storm Nangka.
During the No 8 typhoon warning signal, the collection of specimens for the public health laboratory services branch was suspended, while general services there were limited.
Lam was seen on stage with President Xi Jinping and other mainland Chinese officials on Wednesday morning without wearing a mask during the celebration of Shenzhen’s 40th anniversary as a special economic zone.
But the Chief Executive’s Office on Tuesday dismissed fears that Lam had been at risk of catching the virus, saying she was not considered a close contact as she had worn a mask throughout the performance, did not shake hands with any orchestra members and left during the intermission.
The episode made a strong case for routine testing of orchestral musicians, said Chinese University respiratory expert Professor David Hui Shu-cheong.
“As there is still some community transmission and wind instrument players can’t wear masks during performances, they should perhaps take regular tests before they perform,” he told a radio show.
“Care home workers also get tested as regularly as once a week, so depending on the number of performances they have, they should get tested before, and assume the effective period is about one to two weeks.”
Iosco was not yet among the eight new infections recorded on Tuesday, which took the city’s tally to 5,201, with 105 related deaths.
The government has confirmed that social-distancing rules, including a four-person limit on public gatherings, would remain in force until next week.
A source said the 100 orchestra members would be sent to quarantine centres in Pat Heung or Penny’s Bay, depending on where they lived.
Infectious diseases expert Dr Leung Chi-chiu also said musicians should get tested and avoid performing in front of audiences if they had symptoms.
“If the outbreaks in the community cannot be brought under control, it might even be likely such events should be stopped for a while,” he said. While the orchestra case raised fears of transmission to the audience, Hui said the concert hall had high ceilings and was well ventilated, so the Covid-19 risk to attendees was minimal.
However, he said musicians sitting in the row directly in front of the infected clarinet player might be at risk of infection.
Meanwhile, the Apple store in the IFC Mall in Central has been closed since Tuesday after a staff member working there was infected with Covid-19.
“Our stores are only open when we’re confident we can serve customers in a safe and healthy environment,” Apple said in a reply, without providing a date for the store’s reopening.
Additional reporting by Lilian Cheng
More from South China Morning Post:
- Carrie Lam Covid-19 exposure fears dismissed after member of Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra infected, 100 musicians quarantined
- Number of Covid-19 cases linked to Hong Kong bar climbs as city records six new infections, with three imported from India