Choi Hung and Kwun Tong in eastern Kowloon have emerged as new Covid-19 clusters in Hong Kong with the number of confirmed cases there climbing, the Post has found, while sources said the government was considering a “partial lockdown” in high-risk areas to contain the city’s third wave of infections.
The growing trend for coronavirus outbreaks in housing estates is piling pressure on health officials who earlier pledged that testing would be arranged for everyone living in blocks recording at least two cases not from the same household.
The city’s health minister Professor Sophia Chan Siu-chee said on Wednesday that she would not rule out more stringent social-distancing measures and would be willing to learn from how other countries executed lockdowns.
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But sources familiar with the government’s decision-making said the administration was likely to go for a partial lockdown in certain areas if needed, which fell short of confining people to their homes but imposed more closures of facilities such as shopping centres.
“It would be unrealistic to carry out a complete lockdown for the whole city, but if there are certain clusters emerging, the government might consider a temporary shutdown of public facilities like shopping malls and markets within that area to avoid further community transmissions,” a source said.
No dine-in lunches can be another option [as a social-distancing restriction], the administration will implement measures in a gradual approach
Another source said residents still needed to go out to stock up on daily necessities and for essential appointments such as visiting the doctor.
“No dine-in lunches can be another option [as a social-distancing restriction], the administration will implement measures in a gradual approach,” the source said.
Hong Kong is suffering its most severe phase of the Covid-19 crisis, with more than 980 cases recorded since July 5, pushing the city’s tally to 2,249. Nearly half of the 832 local cases confirmed in that period have unknown sources of infection.
To track down more community cases, health authorities announced last week that testing priority would be given to residents of buildings where at least two unrelated cases were identified.
According to a Post analysis of the 832 local cases, at least 54 buildings citywide which are involved fall under this category. Of these, 35 buildings had two unrelated infections and 19 buildings recorded three to 12 cases. About 75 per cent of the blocks are public housing.
Choi Wah House at Choi Hung was one of the buildings that recorded at least nine separate infections this month, while Ming Chuen House in Sha Tin has 12 cases in total.
District-wise, among the 54 buildings, 24 are located in Tsz Wan Shan and Wong Tai Sin, known to be hard-hit areas, but Choi Hung and Kwun Tong have also emerged as growing clusters, with seven buildings in the former and four in the latter with two or more unrelated cases.
Among the 832 local cases, at least 210, or about a fourth were from Tsz Wan Shan and Wong Tai Sin. Choi Hung and Kwun Tong recorded about 44 and 60 cases respectively. Other hard-hit districts include Sai Kung, Sham Shui Po and Sha Tin, each with more than 40 infections.
Other districts include Diamond Hill, Sham Shui Po and Sha Tin.
Concerns were raised over whether health authorities had enough manpower to address the growing need to test residents.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said they did not have records on the number of buildings where tests had been carried out, but a source said the department was “overwhelmed” with the mounting workload.
Given the large-scale testing needed in the community, the source said the government might have to seek help again from three private companies – including two with mainland ties – after they finished testing 400,000 individuals in high-risk industries, such as taxi drivers and security guards, in the coming weeks.
Before further closure of facilities, the government could consider banning [daytime] dine-in services in restaurants if the situation worsens
Professor David Hui, government adviser
Professor David Hui Shu-cheong, a public health adviser to the government, believed the new clusters emerging in Kowloon East were related to some previous confirmed cases. But he warned that the virus had already spread to other districts.
He added the government could close some shops or facilities but it was not feasible to forbid Hongkongers to leave home or their community like in foreign countries.
“Before further closure of facilities, the government could consider banning [daytime] dine-in services in restaurants if the situation worsens,” he said.
Choy Chak-hung, Kwun Tong District Council chairman, said more cases had surfaced in his area recently, causing fear among residents, but he agreed that further measures could be taken before ultimately imposing a lockdown.
“The government should make mask-wearing mandatory in all areas instead of indoor venues only. They should also make hand sanitisation and temperature checks mandatory in all buildings,” he said.
Back in March, residents in Britain and Italy were not allowed to leave their homes except when they had medical needs, required necessities, or had to exercise or work. This was to reduce the public’s “non-essential” travel. British residents were subject to a fine of £60 (HK$591) for violations.
All shops selling non-essential goods, including hair and nail salons, as well as markets apart from food bazaars, were forced to close. But the lockdown, which was enforced mainly by police, drew criticism in Britain with officers accused of different standards as to what activities were deemed “essential”.
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