Hong Kong’s deadliest wave of Covid-19 infections showed no signs of easing on Thursday as the city reported a new daily record of 149 cases along with another death, while the virus continued to spread in public hospitals and into an additional elderly care home.
The latest figures pushed the city’s tally of confirmed coronavirus cases to 3,151 with 25 related fatalities. Of the new cases, 145 were local infections and health authorities had not been able to trace the origins of 61 of those.
There were four new imported cases, three of them seamen from India and the other an aircrew member who recently entered Hong Kong from the Philippines.
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The tally of infections is expected to climb further, with the health authorities reporting about 70 other people tested preliminarily positive on Thursday, including those staying on general wards of North District Hospital, Queen Elizabeth Hospital and the Caritas Medical Centre.
An 80-year-old resident of Tsz Wan Shan died at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital on Thursday after catching the virus.
Asked what new measures were under consideration to counter the worsening epidemic, Undersecretary for Food and Health Dr Chui Tak-yi said they were monitoring the situation closely to see what impact the latest policies were having.
“The incubation period of Covid-19 can be as long as 14 days so we need some time to observe the trend. It’s now a bit too early to conclude whether the measures [introduced in July] are effective,” he said.
Thursday was the ninth day in a row the city recorded 100-plus new infections. Isolation beds and wards at public hospitals have been squeezed to the limit, with occupancy at 77 per cent and 80 per cent respectively.
From Wednesday, restaurants were barred from allowing customers to eat in at any time, while gatherings of more than two people were banned and mandatory mask-wearing extended to outdoor public areas.
But in face of a public backlash, the government announced on Thursday that dine-in services in the morning and afternoon could resume from Friday.
Among the infections confirmed on Thursday involved a resident at the King Fok elderly centre in Sham Shui Po, its first recorded case.
Also added to the city’s Covid-19 patient list were two taxi drivers and two more members of staff at the Sheung Shui slaughterhouse. So far, a total of seven workers at the slaughterhouse have been confirmed infected, while from Thursday night only workers testing Covid-19 negative would be allowed to enter the site’s slaughter area.
There were also four cases involving patients testing preliminarily positive for the coronavirus after staying in the general wards of public hospitals.
The first was a 70-year-old woman who was looked after on a North District Hospital general ward for half a day before being transferred to an isolation ward, resulting in the identification of six patients as close contacts to be quarantined.
There were two similar cases in the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, including a 64-year-old man who was on a general ward there before testing positive, forcing the quarantine of eight patients he shared the room with.
The fourth general ward case was a four-year-old who stayed at the Caritas Medical Centre in Sham Shui Po.
“There are quite a number of asymptomatic Covid-19 patients hidden in the community, so no matter how stringent or vigilant we try to be in screening patients, we might inevitably admit some asymptomatic patients into our medical wards,” said Dr Sara Ho Yuen-ha, a chief manager of the Hospital Authority.
But Ho added that public hospitals had already stepped up the Covid-19 screening process before admitting any patients. Asymptomatic people from categories including staff at elderly care centres have to be tested for Covid-19 before they are admitted.
Meanwhile, two sources said there had been no meetings between the government and its task force of medical experts over the introduction on Wednesday of the latest social-distancing measures, which included the complete ban on restaurant dining that was later reversed.
The last time they met was on July 11, although there had been communication via text messages since.
“The experts were not involved in the decisions on further tightening the measures since then,” one source said.
But the source added that the government would meet the experts again this week.
By contrast, Beijing’s liaison office in Hong Kong had sat down with those experts at least twice in July to understand the latest epidemic situation and what support mainland China could offer Hong Kong, according to the sources.
Professor David Hui Shu-cheong from Chinese University, one of the government’s pandemic advisers, said they had reflected their opinions through the media, but added it was always better to express their views directly.
It would only be through such meetings that there could be a “real exchange of information and ideas”, he added.
Hui believed that the current coronavirus situation was still under control, as there were no geometric surges in cases. The public needed to allow time for the social-distancing measures to be effective, he added.
Also on Thursday, Hong Kong recorded its sixth case of a pet testing positive for the coronavirus since February.
A spokesman for the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department said the latest one involved a domestic short-haired cat living in Tai Kok Tsui with an owner confirmed as infected.
The spokesman emphasised there was currently no evidence that pets played any role in the spread of the virus among humans as he warned owners never to abandon their animals.
Additional reporting by Gary Cheung
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This article Hong Kong third wave: city confirms fresh daily high of 149 new Covid-19 cases, one more death first appeared on South China Morning Post