Hong Kong health authorities confirmed 13 new imported coronavirus infections on Friday, the highest daily jump in nearly six weeks, although no local transmissions were recorded for the 15th day in a row.
Residents stuck overseas have been steadily flying back to the city over the past few months, including 1,100 from Pakistan.
So far 33 of them, or 3 per cent, have tested positive for Covid-19, which the Centre for Health Protection called a “relatively high” rate compared with returnees from other countries.
The new cases take Hong Kong’s total to 1,079, with four related deaths, and come as the government further eased social-distancing rules.
The latest infections involved residents aged between two and 46 who flew on Qatar Airways Flight 818 that left Pakistan to transit through Doha before arriving in Hong Kong on Thursday. Most did not show symptoms.
Apart from six individual cases, the newly infected came from at least two family clusters, one of which involved a mother who took three of her children to a wedding in Pakistan in January. The 24-year-old groom, who returned with the family, is also infected.
The second cluster involved a two-year-old girl and her 24-year-old mother, who had been in the South Asian country since January.
The centre believed the large-scale outbreak in Pakistan contributed to the relatively high infection rate of the returnees.
“The situation is expected, as Pakistan’s pandemic outbreak has been severe these days,” said Dr Chuang Shuk-kwan, head of the centre’s communicable disease branch.
All of the infected had been moved into the government’s quarantine facility at Chun Yeung Estate in Fo Tan, she said.
Friday’s cases represent the biggest single-day jump of new infections since April 13. Hong Kong’s previous local infection was reported on May 14, when a 62-year-old man tested positive. His 66-year-old wife and five-year-old granddaughter were previously confirmed to have Covid-19.
Chuang said health authorities were unable to trace the source of infections as tests on people in the nearby community deemed at risk had come back negative.
With the local situation improving, the government is letting more businesses reopen. Karaoke lounges, nightclubs, bathhouses and party venues were allowed to resume operations after being shut since early April. But Chuang warned that some activities still posed an infection risk.
Singing is quite high-risk, as there have been some documented outbreaks before
Dr Chuang Shuk-kwan, Centre for Health Protection
“Singing is quite high-risk, as there have been some documented outbreaks before,” she said. “Given there might also be asymptomatic cases in the community [from] earlier, the public should put on masks while singing.”
Gatherings should still be minimised because the pandemic was not completely under control, Chuang said, but she believed further relaxations could be coming.
Health experts have suggested either doing away with the ban on public gatherings of more than eight people or increasing the number to 12 or 16, provided the Covid-19 situation remains under control in the coming days.
Ahead of the June 1 return of air transfers to Hong Kong, transiting passengers would be encouraged not to linger around the international airport, while boarding gates would be disinfected after the arrival of each flight, the hub’s bosses said.
Physical distancing of 1.5 metres is suggested and designated dining areas have been set up for transfer passengers, who will be given coloured stickers so they can be easily identified.
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