The Hong Kong coronavirus patient who escaped from a public hospital only to be tracked down days later has refused to tell police where he went during the 54 hours he was on the loose, prompting officers to suspect he visited brothels or other vice establishments.
As authorities began looking into that possibility on Monday, the city registered 85 new Covid-19 infections, one-third of them from unknown local origins.
A police source said that 63-year-old patient Li Wan-keung had been uncooperative since he was spotted in Mong Kok and returned to Queen Elizabeth Hospital on Sunday night following his escape on Friday.
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The source said the force was investigating whether Li had patronised vice establishments in Mong Kok, where he lived, noting that there were many in the area.
“We will check security camera footage from shops, dash cameras of vehicles and buildings to find out where he had been during the period he was missing,” the source said on Monday.
Li was expected to be discharged from the hospital on January 18, and will be formally arrested then, another police source said, adding that the force would seek legal advice before deciding if the man would be prosecuted.
In Hong Kong, it is illegal for anyone who is in quarantine or isolated in hospital to flee. The offence is punishable by a fine of HK$5,000 (US$645) and two months’ imprisonment.
The Hospital Authority said in a Monday briefing that it had asked the city’s public hospitals to review their security measures following Li’s escape.
“He was arranged to stay in the isolation ward, and we have arranged security guards outside to prevent the abscondence again,” the Hospital Authority’s chief manager of quality and standards, Dr Lau Ka-hin, said at a Monday briefing.
“The Hospital Authority has asked all hospitals who have patients in their isolation wards to review the current security measures and to assess the risk of the patients [escaping].”
Health authorities will also follow up to see if anyone who had been in contact with Li needed to be quarantined, and a police source said the force had also launched a contact-tracing operation.
Li was captured after being spotted in Mong Kok at around 10.52pm on Sunday, police said. Within minutes, officers from the Emergency Unit, wearing protective gear, located him at the junction of Shanghai Street and Changsha Street, less than 200 metres from where he was first seen.
“After confirming his identity, he was ordered to remain at the site and the area was cordoned off while awaiting instructions from the Department of Health on where he should be sent,” the source said.
The authority had earlier said it would look into enhancing security measures, given that no guard had been posted outside the ward and security cameras were not recording at the time.
Before Li escaped on Friday, he had made an unsuccessful attempt to leave the ward the day before.
He was a close contact of another Covid-19 case, and was admitted on Monday after being confirmed positive two days earlier.
The authority said Li had taken some convincing from medical staff before cooperating with treatments and tests, but he had otherwise shown no abnormal behaviour before he fled.
Staff had been alerted about his first escape bid, but health officials suggested he had succeeded the second time as he had “moved too quickly” while workers were busy, running down the stairs and disappearing for the next 54 hours.
Meanwhile, of the 85 new Covid-19 cases confirmed on Monday, 78 were locally transmitted, including 27 from untraceable sources. Seven infections were imported. The youngest new patient was only one year old, while the oldest was 89.
About 50 preliminary-positive infections were also recorded and awaiting confirmation.
The latest cases pushed the city’s tally of confirmed coronavirus infections to 8,237, with 131 related deaths.
Health authorities on Monday ordered everyone living in three buildings to get tested after several residents of each were confirmed infected. The buildings are Shek Lai Estate’s Shek Wing House, in Kwai Tsing; Yau Lai Estate’s Yau Lai House, in Yau Tong; and block A of the Ming Wah building, in Shau Kei Wan.
Officials will also distribute testing bottles at Lei Yue Mun Estate’s Lei Sang House and the Tak Tai Building in Tsuen Wan after several residents of the two buildings contracted the virus as well.
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This article Hong Kong fourth wave: police looking into where escaped Covid-19 patient went during 54 hours on the run, as city confirms 85 new Covid-19 cases first appeared on South China Morning Post