Local transmission of coronavirus may have begun

February 03, 2020 11:29
Professor Yuen Kwok-yung, a microbiologist at the University of Hong Kong, warned that "Hong Kong can become another Wuhan". Photo: RTHK/Bloomberg

A microbiology expert expressed worries that 2019-nCoV, the new strain of coronavirus that is ravaging central China's Hubei province, may have begun to spread in Hong Kong.

In a radio program on Sunday, Professor Yuen Kwok-yung, a microbiologist at the University of Hong Kong (HKU), cited the case of a patient who was suspected to have been infected by the virus locally.

According to Yuen, a local transmission chain may have been in existence if it is confirmed that the patient had not travelled outside Hong Kong during the incubation period, which is seven to 14 days, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.

The case Yuen was referring to involved a 75-year-old man who lives in Tsing Yi. The health authorities said he was in Hong Kong during the week before he developed a cough and shortness of breath on Jan. 22.

The respiratory sample taken from the man, who is currently in isolation at Princess Margaret Hospital, tested positive for the 2019-nCoV on Jan. 30, RTHK reported.

Yuen warned that the case, which is the 12th of the 15 confirmed infections in Hong Kong so far, sent a very dangerous signal and "Hong Kong can become another Wuhan".

As such, Yuen said the government must take resolute measures, including cutting off the source.

The microbiologist pointed out that border restrictions must be ramped up and no one, regardless of their nationality, should be allowed to come to and from the mainland through the borders so as to prevent the virus from being brought into Hong Kong.

He said he could understand why healthcare workers at public hospitals want to stage a strike to protect themselves, urging the authorities to respond to their demands, including denying entry to foreign nationals who have been to China.

Dr. Lam Ching-choi, a member of the Executive Council, urged Hong Kong residents in the same program not to go to the mainland unless it is necessary, adding that the confirmed number of Wuhan-linked pneumonia cases in Guangdong province has surpassed 600.

Lam said Hong Kong people must be prepared for more stringent quarantine and isolation measures taken by the government.

In a social media post on Sunday, the government said the measures aimed at curbing cross-border passenger traffic has had a positive effect, with the number of mainland visitors between Jan. 29 and Feb.1 down to 13,382 from 27,780.

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