Tai Po housing estate sees 3rd Covid-19 case in same building

March 16, 2020 12:49
Authorities evacuated some people living in Heng Tai House at Fu Heng Estate after uncovering three coronavirus patients in the same building. Photos: RTHK, Reuters

A total of 11 people tested positive for novel coronavirus (Covid-19) infection over the weekend, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in Hong Kong to 148.

While most of the newly confirmed patients had recent travel history, at least one of the victims -- a man aged 59 -- had no such record, and was instead suspected to have contracted the virus from a couple living downstairs, the health department's Centre for Health Protection (CHP) said.

According to the CHP, the man (the 140th case) lives in a unit on the 34th floor of a building at Fu Heng Estate, a public housing estate in Tai Po, two floors above a couple (the 119th and 124th cases) who were confirmed earlier as Covid-19 cases from the same building.

As the couple became confirmed patients last week after returning to Hong Kong from a trip to Egypt, the man living above developed cough on March 10 and sought medical help at Alice Ho Miu Ling Nethersole Hospital two days later before he tested positive for Covid-19 on Saturday.

Suspecting that it was the couple who transmitted the virus to the man, staff members of The Housing Department and the Buildings Department, along with Professor Yuen Kwok-yung, a microbiologist at the University of Hong Kong, and CHP Controller Dr. Wong Ka-hin, conducted an on-site inspection of the patients' flats on Saturday evening.

They found the couple had the vent pipe of their toilet cut off.

Yuen said after the inspection that virus from the couple's bodily waste may have entered the pipe after atomization. It should normally have been exhausted from the air vent on the roof, but possibly due to the turbulence effect, it may have ended up in the man's flat and got him infected, he said.

Dr. Chuang Shuk-kwan, head of the CHP's Communicable Disease Branch, told a news briefing on Sunday that a total of 43 tenants living at units 13 and 14 between the 29th and 36th floors of the Tai Po residential building were evacuated on Saturday night and sent to a quarantine center.

The CHP will also test residents of units 13 and 14 living at all 34 floors of the building for Covid-19, RTHK reported.

Chuang said the possibility that the virus was transmitted from lower floors to upper floors was not ruled out. Dozens of environmental samples have been collected for tests, he said, adding that the Housing Department will examine the vent pipes of the confirmed patients' flats.

Dr. Henry Hung Chi-kuen, vice president of the Hong Kong Toilet Association, said it is more likely that the virus spread due to the chimney effect rather than the turbulence effect, similar to that seen during the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak in 2003.

Hung explained that when the virus is moving upwards with air being extracted to the roof by the exhaust fan, it may enter the flats of tenants living on upper floors if their windows happen to be opened.

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