From temples to dance halls, Covid-19 clusters cut across every level of Hong Kong society in 2020

Elizabeth Cheung
·4-min read

The Covid-19 pandemic has affected Hongkongers from all walks of life. Since the first infections in January, the highly transmissible virus has quietly spread to the wider community through silent carriers. People have been infected with the coronavirus at places of worship, care homes for the elderly, workplaces that share common facilities, hospital wards, and even dancing studios frequented by the city’s upper classes.

Here is a look at major Covid-19 clusters that caught city residents off guard.

1. Fook Wai Ching She Buddhist worship hall – 19 patients

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In March, a Buddhist temple in North Point was forced to apologise for not having shut down and suspended gatherings sooner, after multiple worshippers and its own master contracted Covid-19.

Admitting to being caught off guard, the temple put out a statement conceding its worshippers had “not been sensitive enough” and blaming a lack of experience for not cooperating more quickly with the government, which struggled to track all who had visited the worship hall.

A deserted stretch of Lan Kwai Fong amid the coronavirus pandemic. Photo: May Tse
A deserted stretch of Lan Kwai Fong amid the coronavirus pandemic. Photo: May Tse

2. Bar and band cluster – 103 patients

While bar closings have become sadly familiar during the pandemic, it was still March when the city first saw the venues hit in earnest by the virus – first through the musicians that worked there. Numerous bars featuring live music were affected, with staff and customers falling ill at clusters tied to venues in the city’s popular Lan Kwai Fong nightlife district as well as Wan Chai and Tsim Sha Tsui.

One drummer and father who performed as many as six times a week to make a living ended up needing a cocktail of drugs to save his life.

3. Kong Tai Care for the Aged Centre – 46 patients

The need for the highest level of caution at care facilities for the elderly was driven home in July, when it emerged that a cleaner at the Kong Tai Care for the Aged Centre Limited in Tsz Wan Shan had also been working at another facility in the same building.

It was also revealed that at least one resident of the home had spent time out in the community before returning to the facility.

While guidelines from Hong Kong’s Centre for Health Protection suggested care homes “should avoid” sharing staff among facilities, some in the sector said staffing issues meant following through on that would be far tougher than it sounded.

Kong Tai Care for the Aged Centre Limited in Tsz Wan Shan was linked to 46 Covid-19 infections. Photo: Sam Tsang
Kong Tai Care for the Aged Centre Limited in Tsz Wan Shan was linked to 46 Covid-19 infections. Photo: Sam Tsang

4. Kwai Tsing Container Terminals – 77 patients

Early August saw local health authorities racing to control an all-too-predictable outbreak, when the virus ran rampant through a container terminal where thousands of employees spent hours together each day inside cramped, makeshift dormitories.

Post reporters following up on the story discovered a world of windowless rooms where social distancing was impossible to maintain. “If you’re not wearing a mask inside and you’re infected, everyone else will be infected,” Ken Lai Ma-kin, a member of the Union of Hong Kong Dockers, said at the time.

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5. Dancing and singing cluster – at least 732 patients

A world just as ripe for a coronavirus outbreak as the cramped dormitories along the docks – and just as hidden in some ways – was Hong Kong’s vast network of dance halls.

Drawn by the music and mingling, local retirees – often well-heeled – continued to meet and dance deep into November, when one club after another was found to be infected.

In the end, the cluster, which involved more than two dozen separate venues, was responsible for more Covid-19 cases than any other social avenue to date, as the infected took the virus home to housing blocks around the city.

6. Palliative care and medical ward at United Christian Hospital – at least 12 patients and seven staff

An outbreak emerged in the palliative care ward at the hospital in Kwun Tong last week, making it the largest cluster in a health care facility in Hong Kong so far.

Infection-control experts believed an 84-year-old infected woman became a “super-spreader” in the ward.

The practice of shifting patients to different beds and the fact that at least one staff member was not wearing full protective gear while attending to a patient were believed to be among the reasons behind the rapid spread of the virus in the ward, where people who were terminally ill and had very weak immune systems were being cared for.

Which stories mattered most to you in 2020? Find out with our Year In Review 2020 retrospective.

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