Hygiene warning on Mid-Levels escalator handrails

August 20, 2019 16:03
The Central-Mid-Levels Escalator and Walkway System is used by more than 70,000 people every day. Photo: HKEJ

Which is dirtier, a toilet seat or the handrails of an escalator?

According to a lab test, the rubber handrails of the Central-Mid-Levels Escalator and Walkway System, which is used by more than 70,000 people every day, may contain more germs.

The Central & Western Branch of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB) commissioned a lab test on nine of the escalator's 19 sections in May to see how unhygienic the handrails are.

The test results showed the highest amount of germs, or 1,900 colony-forming units (CFU) per square meter, was found on the east-bound section between Caine Road and Mosque Street, while the least amount, 600 CFU, was on the section between Queen's Road Central and Wellington Street, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.

If one touches the handrails of the entire 19 sections, one can get germs of up to 1,300 CFU, according to the test. 

By comparison, a media report said the amount of germs found on a toilet seat was around 1,200 CFU, the same as with a mobile phone screen that has not been cleaned for a year.

DAB lawmaker Horace Cheung Kwok Kwan said the findings are worrisome as many residents living in Mid-Levels rely on the escalators every day, adding that he will notify the government about hygiene issues concerning the handrails and ask relevant departments to enhance cleaning efforts.

In response to an inquiry from the HKEJ, the Transport Department (TD), which is in charge of the facility, disputed DAB's allegation that the handrails are cleaned only once a week.

The TD said the Electrical and Mechanical Services Department, which it commissioned to handle the escalator’s operations and maintenance, has outsourced the job of cleaning the handrails and other elevator parts of the elevator to a private contractor, which does it every day.

To ensure the handrails meet hygiene standards, the TD promised that it will keep a close eye on the sanitary situation of the overall system on a regular basis.

Dr. Betty Kwan Ka-mei, a family medicine doctor, said objects and facilities that are open for public use are more likely to contain more germs such as Escherichia coli and Staphylococcus aureus.

She urged people to wash their hands thoroughly after touching the handrails and before eating or touching their eyes, ears, nose and mouth.

The DAB suggested that the government work with universities or innovative startups in conducting research and perhaps coming up with an automatic handrail cleaning machine to replace human cleaners to achieve better results.

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