Hong Kong’s third wave of Covid-19 is taking a worrying toll on senior citizens, with the death of a 71-year-old patient who tested positive and a potential new cluster emerging at a second care home for the elderly on Friday.
As the city confirmed another 58 coronavirus infections, and Friday’s fatal case marked the fourth such death in a week, health authorities advised elderly residents in particular to avoid going out and family members living with them to stay home as much as possible, warning that more outbreaks were likely in the coming days.
“The coronavirus has infected many elderly people in the city. You should pay attention to the elderly who live with you,” Dr Chuang Shuk-kwan, head of the communicable disease branch at the Centre for Health Protection, said.
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“And if you do live with some elderly people, try to avoid going out too much and put on a mask if you talk to them.”
As Hong Kong battled the third wave, neighbouring Guangdong province in mainland China tightened its entry requirements as a response. Those who enter Guangdong from the city, via Shenzhen Bay Port or the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge, must present proof of a valid negative test result for Covid-19.
Mounting calls for civil servants to work from home, however, appeared to be falling on deaf ears. A government source said there had been complaints from some members of the public and the business sector over the disruption to public services when the measure was introduced from late January to early May.
The latest cases – 50 local infections and eight imported ones from India, Pakistan and the Philippines – pushed the city’s tally to 1,713. The latest death is the city’s 11th fatality.
The 71-year-old woman had chronic illnesses including diabetes and high blood pressure and after suffering a heart attack on Thursday night was sent to Ruttonjee Hospital in Wan Chai. She tested positive for Covid-19 with a high viral load, and died on Friday afternoon after her condition worsened.
The authorities were investigating why she was not given a Covid-19 test after visiting a family doctor when she developed upper respiratory symptoms five days ago.
Covid-19 claimed the lives of three other elderly patients in the past week, including two, aged 90 and 95, who were residents of coronavirus-hit Kong Tai Elderly Care Centre Limited in Tsz Wan Shan. The other was an 89-year-old man.
Among new cases on Friday, a 92-year-old resident and two women employees, aged 44 and 56, of the Jockey Club Harmony Villa, an elderly care centre run by the Tung Wah Group of Hospitals in Wong Chuk Hang on Hong Kong Island, also tested positive and were being treated in Ruttonjee Hospital.
The two employees worked separately on different floors. A site visit by various departments on Thursday night found the centre to be relatively clean and spacious and could be used as an on-site quarantine facility for five close contacts of the infected patient. Only staff would be sent to quarantine camps.
“We are still investigating the route of transmission or whether the three cases are related,” Chuang said. “Transmission is usually through face-to-face contact or environmental contamination.”
The new cases raised concerns of another possible outbreak in care homes for the elderly.
The first, striking Kong Tai Elderly Care Centre Limited, has so far infected at least 44 elderly residents and employees, according to official figures, with two fatalities. Two infections on Friday involved a 79-year-old resident and an employee, 57.
Dr Leung Chi-chiu, chairman of the Hong Kong Medical Association’s advisory committee on communicable diseases, said it was not surprising to see Covid-19 patients in another care home, with the city’s third wave sweeping across more professions and districts.
He said all care homes should immediately avoid sharing staff or even rotating them across different floors within an institution, and workers should observe social distancing and avoid being out and about too often.
Leung was not opposed to on-site quarantine for care home residents as moving them around might increase cross-infection risks. “The elderly may find it difficult to live in an unfamiliar environment and cared for by strangers, but it is important that care homes have contained transmission before allowing on-site quarantine.”
Other clusters in Tsz Wan Shan also grew with at least 12 more cases emerging. They include customers and staff of restaurants at a shopping centre, and some vegetable stall owners at a market. Some family members of those infected earlier contracted the virus as well.
Among the 18 untraceable cases was a New World First Bus driver, who on Monday and Tuesday drove four buses along Route 23, which links North Point with Pok Fu Lam.
We cannot rule out the chance of a bigger outbreak in the community, thus everyone should be cautious, especially if you live with some elderly
Dr Chuang Shuk-kwan, Centre for Health Protection
He felt unwell on Wednesday and was confirmed infected on Friday morning, according to a statement from the bus company. Bus drivers working or eating alongside him would be quarantined.
A saleswoman at the Landmark shopping centre in Central, a clinic nurse and a receptionist of a massage parlour were also among the untraceable confirmed cases who may have had contact with the public.
Chuang also revealed that about 20 people tested preliminary positive, warning the third wave may not have reached its peak yet.
“Confirmed cases have dispersed in the community and affected the general public including taxi and bus drivers, sales, elderly and residents in public and private estates, and some of the cases are untraceable, which is very worrying,” she said.
“We cannot rule out the chance of a bigger outbreak in the community, thus everyone should be cautious, especially if you live with some elderly.”
Meanwhile, an editor working for local newspaper Hong Kong Economic Times also tested positive, after a member of her family caught the virus earlier. Photojournalists and local desk reporters working on the same floor as her would work from home.
The surge in infections sparked the cancellation of many public activities, including the annual cross-harbour swimming race. The race, organised by Hong Kong Amateur Swimming Association, was also cancelled last year because of the city’s social unrest.
Hospital Authority chief executive Dr Tony Ko Pat-sing wrote in a blog post on Friday that hospital officials were “very worried” about the latest wave of infections.
“While there are quite a lot of community outbreaks that cannot be traced, our isolation facilities will soon be full,” Ko said.
He said community isolation facilities for Covid-19 patients who were stable or asymptomatic would need to be activated when isolation beds in public hospitals were full.
With the increasing number of elderly patients, the authority said it had been monitoring usage of artificial lungs and ventilators. So far, only one patient in critical condition needed the use of an artificial lung, of which there were more than 20 in stock.
Separately, the Food and Health Bureau said a new testing scheme for 400,000 workers in four industries deemed to be high-risk would cover about 40,000 elderly and disability care home staff, 70,000 taxi drivers, 200,000 in food and catering businesses and 160,000 in property management.
Meanwhile, the authorities conditionally approved the registration of the experimental antiviral drug Remdesivir as a product for Covid-19.