Health authorities urged people to stay home and avoid social gatherings, warning that the situation in Hong Kong was “getting a bit out of hand” as they confirmed 38 more Covid-19 infections on Sunday, while more than 20 people preliminarily tested positive.
With the city battling an escalating third wave of cases, health experts piled pressure on the government for stricter measures to contain the spread of the coronavirus, while a leading expert warned that each person with the disease could potentially infect four others.
However, apart from announcing a return to some tighter social-distancing measures last week, the government has not raised its response to the level seen earlier this year, even though officials have described the current wave of infections as the most severe so far.
Get the latest insights and analysis from our Global Impact newsletter on the big stories originating in China.
Among Sunday’s 38 new confirmed cases, 30 were locally transmitted and the source of infection in 13 cases was unknown. The city now has a Covid-19 tally of 1,469 cases, with seven related deaths.
The government has yet to respond to mounting calls for the Hong Kong Book Fair on Wednesday to be postponed, and for school examinations to be cancelled after it ordered the suspension of classes.
While a group of exhibitors renewed appeals for the book fair to be postponed, and bus operator KMB announced it would pull out of the event, organiser the Trade Development Council said it was still in discussions with stakeholders.
On another worrying note, Professor Gabriel Leung, dean of the University of Hong Kong’s (HKU) medical school, said he believed there were at least 50 to 60 hidden cases in the community, as an international study indicated mutations in one strain of the virus had increased its infection rate by 30 per cent.
He said another local study confirmed such a trend, as the number of people expected to be infected by each case had increased in March from 2½ to three, and had now risen to four.
Leung highlighted Kowloon East and Sha Tin as two areas most at risk of a bigger outbreak and urged the government to prioritise testing resources for the elderly in particular.
Dr Chuang Shuk-kwan, head of the Centre for Health Protection’s communicable disease branch, advised the public to stay at home and avoiding social gatherings as much as possible to minimise the infection risk, admitting the pandemic was “getting a bit out of hand”.
“The recent surge of new cases involves people from all walks of life, having contacts with different people such as friends and family members. There are chances that the transmission will continue. If people relax their guard, cases will shoot up and we will face a bigger outbreak,” she said.
“I think both the government and the public may have to tighten up measures to maintain social distancing and avoid going out as much as possible.”
Chuang said it was up to the government to decide on such steps, but suggested employers should also allow people to work from home as much as possible.
“As for quarantine exemptions for certain people coming to Hong Kong, I think it’s also better to reduce the number of those exempted persons,” she said.
Chuang also urged residents of neighbourhoods where recent cases have been discovered to get tested immediately if they felt unwell, rather than wait for authorities to hand out sample collection bottles. “The yield for testing will be too low if people wait,” she said.
HKU microbiologist Professor Yuen Kwok-yung said the current wave of new infections was almost certainly due to the lifting of social-distancing measures by the government.
He advised Hongkongers to be more cautious and avoid activities such as eating out.
He also suggested the government would need extra help, possibly from mainland China, to raise its testing rate and keep a lid on infections.
Ivan Hung Fan-ngai, also an infectious disease specialist at HKU, urged the government to tighten border restrictions again, particularly for exempted groups, such as aviation and cruise-ship crews.
Eight of Sunday’s confirmed cases were imported, including four people who had arrived in the city from the Philippines. A student returning from the United States and a seven-year-old girl from Pakistan also tested positive.
Among the local cases, at least three were taxi drivers, bringing to nine the number of confirmed infections in the sector. One of the new cases with an unknown source, a 48-year-old man living in Lai King estate, said he had taken many taxi rides but could not remember any details.
More new cases from previous clusters were also recorded on Sunday, including another 13-year-old student at Good Hope School in Ngau Chi Wan whose schoolmate was confirmed infected on Saturday.
Another employee at a Sasa branch in Shatin Centre was infected after dining with a staff member who was previously confirmed, bringing the number of infected workers at the company to four.
Four more patrons of Sun Fat Restaurant in Jordan were also confirmed on Sunday, while the wife of one of them tested preliminary positive. Two others who had visited the Bun Kee Congee and Noodle Shop in Tsz Wan Shan also tested positive.
A 48-year-old man whose infection source had yet to be traced said he had visited a bar in Tsim Sha Tsui on July 1, but did not remember which establishment it was.
An elderly couple was also among the local infections with unknown sources.
Chuang said authorities were contact-tracing more than 10 students linked to a tuition centre in North Point after a seven-year-old boy who attended classes there tested positive.
Meanwhile, Macau authorities announced that from Tuesday, all ferry and plane passengers would need to present a health certificate before they could leave the casino hub.
More from South China Morning Post: