Hong Kong police are hunting for two people who absconded from 14-day quarantines imposed by the government to contain the spread of the new coronavirus.
Health minister Sophia Chan Siu-chee said on Monday that nine people had been found to have left their designated premises since the mandatory measures came in, two of whom police were still trying to locate. All of them were Hong Kong residents, officials added.
“I have to remind these people, violating the quarantine order is a criminal offence,” Chan said.
Chan said 1,193 people – 1,066 Hong Kong residents and 127 non-locals – had been issued quarantine orders since the system came into force on Saturday. Most were confined to their homes, while 35 were staying in hotels and 20 had been sent to government quarantine facilities.
The government scheme applies to all people entering Hong Kong from mainland China and those who have been there within 14 days of their arrival to the city. Under it, locals will be confined to their homes for 14 days, while non-locals will stay at hotels or government quarantine centres.
Those violating the order face a maximum fine of HK$25,000 (US$3,220) and six months in jail.
To check if those under quarantine were staying put, Chan said, officers were calling them for voice and video conversations, and requiring some to share their live GPS location via messaging apps.
Police had also conducted spot checks at the homes of 167 people since Saturday, she said.
Chan said if people were found to have left their place of quarantine, they would first be given a warning. Repeat offenders would have to wear an electronic wristband, and could be placed in a quarantine camp, she said.
The wristband has no GPS function but will alert authorities if it moved too far – about 20 to 30 metres – from a smartphone it is connected to, or if either device is broken.
Deputy Secretary for Food and Health Daniel Cheng Chung-wai said not all quarantined people were in their designated abode when police checked on them.
“One or two said they went down to buy some food and necessities, but the police and the Department of Health have reminded them that is not allowed,” he said. “They all said they would comply.”
Despite two people missing, Cheng defended the quarantine system.
“You cannot zoom into the few missing to say the scheme is a failure,” he said. “Sometimes police will wait at the scene and they will show up.”
If authorities had proof of people intentionally violating quarantine orders, Cheng said, the government would not hesitate to press charges. He added that the department would upload the names of hotels where people were staying under quarantine.
Cheng also said the measures had so far been effective because most had followed the orders and stayed at home.
“[Our measures] have two objectives, one is to reduce the number of people crossing the border. You can see this has been very successful from the figures released. The second is to reduce the social contact of those [who have returned to Hong Kong] ... which so far has also been very successful,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Centre for Health Protection announced on Monday that three more patients in Hong Kong were confirmed as infected with the virus, bringing the tally to 39.
The latest person to be confirmed was a 52-year-old man who was being treated at Pamela Youde Nethersole Eastern Hospital in Chai Wan, according to a source.
The Hongkonger became the 11th person diagnosed from a group who shared a new-year hotpot meal on January 26.
One of the other two cases confirmed on Monday concerned a 55-year-old woman, who also attended the family meal.
The cluster was discovered after a 24-year-old man was admitted to Ruttonjee Hospital in Wan Chai on Saturday and tested positive for the virus.
The young man had a meal with 16 local and two mainland relatives on January 26, the second day of Lunar New Year, at a venue in Kwun Tong called Lento Party Room. He then developed symptoms including fever and cough.
Since then, nine other people who were at the meal, aged from 22 to 91, have tested positive for the virus, including the man’s father, mother, and grandmother.
The young man said he had no recent travel history. Before his stay at Ruttonjee Hospital, he sought help from two private doctors and St Paul’s Hospital.
Maxim’s, a local food and catering giant, said two of the infected relatives worked in its Peking Garden restaurants.
One of them was the woman whose infection was announced on Monday, the other a 23-year-old male cousin of the first infected relative. Both worked in the kitchen.
The outlets where they worked – one at Moko mall in Mong Kok, the other at Alexandra House in Central – would be closed for two weeks for cleaning and disinfection.
All staff who worked at the restaurants were told to “self-quarantine” for 14 days, the company said. “The company will closely monitor their health status. No symptoms have been found yet,” it added.
The second new patient revealed by the centre on Monday was a 69-year-old man admitted to Pamela Youde Nethersole Eastern Hospital in Chai Wan. He was in need of assisted breathing, the centre said.
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