Health officials have confirmed that seven more people tested positive for coronavirus today, including three people linked to a Tsing Yi housing estate that was partly evacuated over infection fears this morning, bringing the total number of cases in Hong Kong to 49.
At a daily afternoon press conference, Centre for Health Protection communicable disease chief Chuang Shuk-kwan confirmed that three of the newest cases were related to that of an elderly woman in Tsing Yi who was confirmed to have the virus on Monday night, prompting a partial evacuation of her building over fears that plumbing shared between her flat and that of a previously confirmed patient may have been to blame.
Chuang said that the elderly patient from Tsing Yi lived with her son and daughter-in-law, both of whom tested positive today following the onset of symptoms at the beginning of February. She also confirmed that the couple had visited the daughter-in-law’s father in Tim Wan over the Lunar New Year, and that he has also tested positive.
Another one of the new cases was the colleague of an attendee of a family hotpot gathering in Kwun Tong that is believed to have already sickened 11. The man developed a cough on Feb. 1 and called in sick, then took himself to hospital after reports emerged of others falling sick at the Lunar New Year gathering.
The other three new cases comprise a 59-year-old man who works at a church in Siu Sai Wan, a 71-year-old man from Po Lam, and a 66-year-old man from Tuen Mun. None of them had any travel history.
Earlier today, it emerged that a drainage pipe in the 62-year-old Tsing Yi woman’s flat had been modified, and that materials used to seal a cut in the pipe had come loose, causing a leak and leading to speculation that the alterations could have facilitated the spread of the virus between her flat and that of another patient. A similar mode of transmission broke out due to faulty pipes at the Amoy Gardens estate during the SARS outbreak of 2003, sickening 321.
Authorities said today that they were investigating that theory, but that at this stage, it’s not clear if the alterations contributed to the spread of the virus.
University of Hong Kong microbiologist Yuen Kwok-yung reiterated that the Hong Mei House in Tsing Yi case is unlikely to become “another Amoy Gardens,” and added that about 200 people had been evacuated from the apartment block.
If no one shows symptoms, they should be allowed to return home by Valentine’s Day, but if infection among residents from other flats is confirmed, everyone will have to be quarantined for 14 days. So far, five people evacuated from the Hong Mei House who had showed symptoms of coronavirus subsequently tested negative.
Asked by a reporter if it was now “meaningless” to fully close the border with mainland, as many had urged, Yuen said that the measures already implemented had greatly reduced cross-border traffic. Now that the coronavirus is already in the community, he said, the number of infections could be on the rise, and everyone should play their part in the “containment phase” by staying indoors, avoiding social contact, and washing their hands regularly.
Yuen also urged everyone to “stay united,” and to “stop pointing fingers at each other.”
“We are now at a very serious stage of controlling the epidemic, we must not be pointing fingers at each other and saying how wrong you are.”