Partial evacuation ordered at Tsing Yi public housing estate

February 11, 2020 13:40
People wearing protective clothing are seen outside Hong Mei House of Cheung Hong Estate in Tsing Yi during a partial evacuation of the apartment block on Monday night. Photo: HKEJ

Authorities have evacuated some residents of a public housing estate in Tsing Yi for transfer to quarantine centers after the novel coronavirus was suspected to have spread in the residential block, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.

The partial evacuation came several hours after the Centre for Health Protection (CHP) under the Department of Health (DH) reported six new confirmed cases of 2019-nCoV infection, bringing the total number in the city to 42 as of Monday.

Among the newly confirmed patients is a 62-year-old woman who resides in Hong Mei House of Cheung Hong Estate, a public housing estate in Tsing Yi.

It was learned that she and another patient, a 75-year-old man who became the 12th confirmed case on Jan. 30, both reside in flats number seven, although on different floors, of the same building.

To prevent more people living in Hong Mei House from contracting the virus as well as to see if any more of the residents have already been infected, authorities began late last night to evacuate all residents living in units No. 7 on all floors of the 35-storey building.

Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan Siu-chee told reporters on Tuesday that four more people from the apartment block had shown symptoms of the illness and were now in isolation in different hospitals.

There are 34 households residing in units No. 7 of Hong Mei House,including the two households with the confirmed patients.

So far 23 households had left their residences, Chan added.

The partial evacuation at Hong Mei House was a “precautionary measure for the safety of the residents” and it wasn't yet clear how the virus had spread, RTHK quoted CHP controller Dr. Wong Ka-hing as saying.

“It could still be the usual droplet transmission or contact transmission, but there is the environmental factor, which is somehow unique in these two cases as they live in the same building,” Wong said.

As to whether it is necessary to check all the buildings where the several dozen confirmed patients reside, Wong said one should not make sweeping generalizations, noting what happened in Tsing Yi poses a potential risk that cannot be ruled out.

Professor Yuen Kwok-yung, a microbiologist at the University of Hong Kong, said the flats where the two confirmed patients in Hong Mei House live are about 10 floors apart.

However, Wong said that flats with the same unit number in the building share the same fecal discharge pipe which in turn connects to an exhaust pipe that was found to be broken.

A possibility was that a broken exhaust pipe had allowed the virus to spread, Wong said.

Yuen said the situation was totally different from what was seen in Amoy Gardens, which saw a community outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in 2003.

Asked why only those residing in No. 7 units were evacuated, Yuen said there is reason to believe that the fecal discharge pipe carried the virus, which seeped through the broken part of the exhaust pipe.

As such, there is no point to evacuate all of the about 2,000 residents in the building.

Secretary for Transport and Housing Frank Chan Fan told reporters that initial investigation suggests that a ventilation pipe in the flat of a confirmed coronavirus patient may have been "modified".

The Food and Environmental Hygiene Department and the Housing Department will conduct thorough cleaning and disinfection for the building, the government press release said.

The health department will provide residents with guidelines on cleaning and disinfection. They should properly maintain drainage pipes and regularly pour about half a liter of water into each drain outlet (U-trap) to ensure environmental hygiene, for example.

After using the toilet, they should put the toilet lid down before flushing to prevent germs from spreading, the government release said.

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