Hong Kong’s fourth wave of the coronavirus continued to ease on Sunday with health authorities revealing just 31 new cases, but dozens of people at a care home for the elderly were forced into quarantine after a staff member tested preliminary-positive.
A new cluster at a tunnel construction site emerged, while a ferry captain was among nine untraceable cases. Three arrivals – from Turkey, Germany and Brazil – were also found to be carrying the virus.
The new patients – aged seven to 80 – pushed the city’s coronavirus tally to 9,242, while the number of related fatalities stands at 158.
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Health authorities said more than 30 other people tested preliminary-positive, including the carer at the Yi Wo Yuen Aged Sanatorium Centre in Hung Hom.
“There is of course a risk of the [virus spreading] … in the care home,” said Dr Chuang Shuk-kwan, head of the communicable disease branch of the Centre for Health Protection. “That’s why we will test all the care home residents and the health care workers to see if there are other infections in the centre.”
Authorities would send 31 elderly and 15 staff into quarantine, while other residents and staff who lived and worked on different floors of the care home would not have to be isolated but must undergo screening.
The ferry captain is employed by Hong Kong and Kowloon Ferry Holdings and three of his colleagues tested preliminary-positive. They worked on the Central to Peng Chau Island route, as well as the route from Central to Yung Shue Wan on Lamma Island, and operated ferries that took workers between Tsuen Wan and the airport’s third runway that is under construction.
Six people who worked at the construction site of a tunnel connecting the West Kowloon reclamation and the proposed Kai Tak Development were confirmed as infected, and a seventh has been categorised as a suspected case.
The daily caseload has been generally falling, with the latest being the second-lowest since the fourth wave began in November. The figure has been hovering between 25 and 59 since the start of the month, but infectious diseases expert Dr Leung Chi-chiu cautioned against assuming the current wave would end soon.
“The fourth wave has dragged on for quite some time and the virus has seeped into different levels of society,” he said. “At the current rate of decrease, it will take a long time for us to reach single-digit caseloads. The longer it has dragged on, the more people start to feel impatient and we see crowds everywhere on weekends and holidays, and often mask-wearing and hand hygiene is lax.”
Leung urged the government to step up enforcement of the requirement for the face coverings to be worn in public, and to limit the number of people visiting government-run facilities.
“They should also discuss implementing similar control measures with private premises, such as at supermarkets, malls and restaurants,” he said.
If crowds kept packing public streets and malls, authorities would find it difficult to carry out contact tracing through a new command centre or apps, he warned.
But Leung stopped short of calling for a curfew or citywide lockdown, saying the economy was not strong enough to allow for such moves. “Enforcement of mask-wearing is easy to do and will not affect the livelihoods of residents,” he said.
Earlier on Sunday, Dr Arisina Ma Chung-yee, president of the Hong Kong Public Doctors’ Association, said the Hospital Authority had promised to offer compensation to medical staff who became infected while at work.
Additionally, Dr Linda Yu Wai-ling, the chief manager of clinical effectiveness and technology management at the authority, said the organisation would indeed offer financial support to infected staff but declined to offer any details.
Meanwhile, the city’s No 2 official confirmed eligible residents would this month be able to book appointments online to receive vaccinations as early as February.
Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung said the government had been establishing digital platforms for people to download their Covid-19 test records and arrange inoculations.
“The vaccination booking system will be ready this month … After residents finish booking, the system will confirm the appointment and provide further information,” he wrote on his official blog.
“On the day before their confirmed appointment, the system will send a reminder to the resident’s mobile phone.”
The launch of the booking system was revealed last month by Secretary for Innovation and Technology Alfred Sit Wing-hang, who said the platform would allow users to choose their preferred vaccine and book two inoculation slots at the same time.
Additional reporting by Tony Cheung
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