A Hong Kong restaurant at the centre of a coronavirus outbreak has hit back at accusations its ventilation system was not up to standard by saying a subsequent government probe suggested otherwise.
Mr Ming’s Chinese Dining, located in the upscale K11 Musea shopping centre in Tsim Sha Tsui, has since last month seen more than 50 staff, patrons and their close contacts infected with the coronavirus.
Soon after the outbreak erupted, the mall abruptly terminated its contract with the outlet and ordered it to vacate the premises by Friday, without discussing the matter with its managers.
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Ventilation at Mr Ming’s Chinese Dining became a matter of concern after the University of Hong Kong’s Professor Yuen Kwok-yung, an adviser to the government on its pandemic response, found that during a visit to the restaurant that fresh air supply was only one-third of what was required.
The government later ordered all restaurants to improve their fresh air supply by April 30.
In a briefing on Wednesday, the restaurant stressed that the Electrical and Mechanical Services Department (EMSD) had commissioned experts from HKU to look into the matter, and had concluded the fresh air supply was up to the standards set by the government.
Anthony Law Kwok-yung, an adjunct associate professor of mechanical engineering at Polytechnic University who was hired by the restaurant to look into the EMSD-commissioned probe, said: “There was adequate air change in the restaurant.”
Law, who did not conduct the probe but looked at its data, said fresh air supply in the restaurant was about 18 cubic metres an hour per person on the lower level, and much higher on the upper level – as opposed to the licensing requirement of 17 cubic metres.
The probe report also showed the air change rate per hour, another ventilation measurement, for the upper level was 12 to 18, meaning the air within that area was exchanged by fresh air 12 to 18 times every hour. The rate for the lower level was much lower, at 2.9 to five.
The government announced after the outbreak all restaurants had to have an air change rate of six per hour by April 30. There were no such requirements before the outbreak.
Law said he was not there when Yuen visited the restaurant, but he suspected ventilation was worse than usual that day because the kitchen was not running. The kitchen, on the upper floor, played a role in the restaurant’s overall ventilation because of the fans installed there.
But Yuen told the Post the air change rate on the lower floor was only 1.2 to 2.1 per hour when he visited.
“The air flow of the kitchen must be separated from that in the seating area of the customers,” he said. “Therefore, the air change at the kitchen cannot be counted as part of the air change in the outbreak area.”
About six environmental samples taken from ventilation system grilles tested positive for Covid-19, he said, adding: “All these suggested that inadequate ventilation was an important factor related to the outbreak.”
K11 Musea declined to comment on Wednesday. The Food and Environmental Hygiene Department said the restaurant’s ventilation system had so far not been found to be in breach of the laws.
Separately, Professor Yuen Pak-leung, chairman of a working group tasked by the government to look into improving fresh air supply in restaurants by April 30, said the new requirements were suitable. He said some US cities wanted restaurants’ air change rate per hour to reach 15, instead of six the Hong Kong government was now asking for.
He added that if some restaurants struggled to improve the rate, they could just install air purifiers to improve the air quality. His group will present a list of about 100 air purifiers, costing HK$2,500 (US$321) to HK$10,000 each, to the restaurants. Restaurant owners could also apply to the government to request more time if they found it difficult to meet the April 30 deadline, he added.
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