Covid-19 cases with untraceable sources very worrisome: CHP

March 24, 2020 13:15
A passenger wears an electronic wrist band handed upon arrival at the Hong Kong airport as authorities enforce quarantine rules amid the coronavirus outbreak. Photo: Reuters

Thirty-nine people tested positive for the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) infection on Monday, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in Hong Kong to 356, plus one probable case.

Of the newly confirmed patients, 31 had travel history during the incubation and infectious periods of the virus. Their ages ranged from 18 to 66, according to the Health Department’s Centre for Health Protection (CHP).

Among the remaining cases, some were linked to cluster infections.

Providing an update on the overall case tally, health officials said they are worried about the fact that in some of the cases, the source of infection was untraceable.

Dr. Chuang Shuk-kwan, head of the CHP’s Communicable Disease Branch, told a daily briefing that some of the cases were interconnected, with investigations revealing that there was fourth generation transmission.

This means an individual had spread it to a second person, that second person to a third, and the third to a fourth.

However, Chuang admitted that there were also cases with untraceable sources, cases that resulted in authorities unable to determine what generation of transmission the infections should be placed in regard to categorization.

Luckily the number of such cases was not that many, otherwise, the existing containment strategy may need to be changed, Chuang said.

According to the CHP, eight of the 39 newly confirmed patients did not have recent travel history. That included a female doctor who works at the Health Department’s Port Health Division, and a 32-year-old man who had been to the ICBC Tower branch of Pure Fitness, a well-known gym operator in the city.

Among the others without recent travel history, two are co-workers of a man confirmed as a patient earlier and having links to a restaurant on Hollywood Road.

In related developments, Now TV News said on Monday that it has evacuated its Wan Chai office after an employee preliminarily tested positive for Covid-19.

According to reports, the affected staff member was a male video editor who had no travel history. His last work day was said to have been March 19, and he now under treatment at the Alice Ho Miu Ling Nethersole Hospital.

The broadcaster said it has activated a backup plan to have the news team work from a separate office so it can stay on air, RTHK reported.

In Monday’s press briefing, CHP controller Dr. Wong Ka-hing said Hong Kong is now at a critical moment in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic.

Noting that many people are still going onto the streets, Wong reminded citizens to reduce social contacts. Non-essential gatherings must be curtailed, he said.

Asked repeatedly whether the government should take tougher measures to contain the spread of the virus, such as ordering eateries and bars to close down, Wong only said he believes very stringent measures are necessary from the perspective of public health.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said at a news conference Monday afternoon that the government will invoke the Prevention and Control of Disease Ordinance to introduce legislation to temporarily prohibit the sale and supply of alcoholic drinks by about 8,600 restaurants, bars and clubs with liquor licenses so as to further reduce social contacts and gatherings.

The government will hold discussions with members of the restaurant industry on ways to further reduce gatherings, such as wedding banquets and other celebration activities, and how restaurants can reduce customers' risk of infection during meals, Lam said.

When asked whether the names of the buildings in which the quarantined people stay will be made public, the CHP's Wong did not give a straight answer, merely saying that the buildings are located on Hong Kong Island as well as in Kowloon and the New Territories.

The official said that early 24,000 self-quarantine orders have been issued, as of Sunday, since the government extended compulsory quarantine arrangements on March 19 to cover travelers arriving from all overseas countries and territories.

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