Hong Kong confirms 19 new local virus cases as health experts urge re-tightening of policies

Hongkongers queue for face masks at a Watsons on January 30, 2020. Photo: Studio Incendo via Wikimedia Commons
Hongkongers queue for face masks at a Watsons on January 30, 2020. Photo: Studio Incendo via Wikimedia Commons

Another 19 new local virus cases have been recorded in Hong Kong, authorities said on Wednesday amid fears that a third wave has arrived in the city.

An outbreak also appears to be underway at an elderly care home in Wong Tai Sin, where eight people—including four residents and four staff members—were confirmed with the virus today. An 85-year-old woman who lives at the facility had earlier been diagnosed.

The new infections include three people who visited a restaurant that a confirmed patient works at, and a 41-year-old woman whose father and son were confirmed to have the virus yesterday.

The source of transmission is unknown for five cases. Such infections, says David Hui, an infectious disease expert at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, are “the most worrying.”

“If there are different districts that have untraceable cases, then the risk of a community outbreak is high,” he said, adding that the city might have to reintroduce the more stringent health measures that were implemented during the peak of the outbreak in March.

One of the patients, a 55-year-old taxi driver, is in critical condition, according to the Head of the Center for Health Protection’s Communicable Disease Branch Chuang Shuk-kwan.

Besides for the local infections, the city also recorded five more imported cases—two from Indonesia, two from the Philippines and one from Kazakhstan.

The jump in cases today marks the second day of a sharp increase in local infections. Yesterday, nine were reported.

More than half a dozen schools attended by students who have contracted the virus, or whose parents have tested positive, have closed for deep cleaning.

Yuen Kwok-yung, a top microbiologist at the University of Hong Kong, says the sharp rise in cases is “well expected by all experts,” adding that the loosening of public health restrictions could be to blame.

“Father’s day was two weeks ago, and now we are seeing the virus,” Yuen said, referring to the relaxation of policies ahead of the Sunday holiday. That week, authorities removed a ban on gatherings larger than 8, permitting meetings of up to 50 people. Restrictions at bars, pubs and nightclubs were also loosened.

He added that the risk of infection is highest when people are not wearing face masks, for example at restaurants and karaoke lounges, and that relevant social distancing policies should be enforced.

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