Officials warn off returnees with symptoms as more imported COVID-19 cases confirmed

With Hongkongers around the world scrambling to return home ahead of sweeping new quarantine requirements, officials today cautioned any would-be returnees displaying symptoms to seek medical care before traveling, as five new COVID-19 cases were confirmed this afternoon — four of them likely imported.

Speaking to reporters at the daily afternoon press briefing, Chuang Shuk-kwan from the Centre for Health Protection confirmed that the five new cases, aged 18 to 69, had traveled to a number of coronavirus hotspots between them, including the U.K., France, Switzerland, and Spain. The latest announcement brings the total number of recorded cases to date in Hong Kong to 163.

The confirmed imported cases include an 18-year-old student studying at a university in Switzerland, who returned to Hong Kong via Kuala Lumpur; a 37-year-old Cathay Pacific flight attendant who served the business class cabin on flights to and from Madrid; a 30-year-old woman who flew to Paris and London; and a 69-year-old man who traveled to London, Paris and Spain with his wife.

Chuang also confirmed that a 36-year-old man who didn’t travel during the 14-day incubation period also tested positive. He lives in Yau Ma Tei with his wife, and fell ill shortly after having dinner with a group of friends, one of whom had been to Switzerland. Chuang said the CHP were attempting to track down the friend as it’s not clear if he had tested positive for COVID-19.

In addition to the five confirmed cases, Chuang said there were three preliminary positive cases, including two students studying in the UK, and a 24-year-old man who worked in Denmark for the last six months.

“We understand a lot of students are returning to Hong Kong because of the situation overseas, especially in the U.S. and the U.K. So in theory, I think those who have symptoms, they should seek medical advice at their local health authority instead of going back to Hong Kong, because this may pose risks to other people who are traveling together in the flight,” Chuang said.

She added that for those without symptoms who have been advised by parents or their schools to return home can still fly back, but reiterated that they must “take good personal environmental hygiene measures, especially during the airport.”

The press briefing comes hours after the city’s chief executive announced new outbound travel alerts and expansive mandatory quarantine measures for all countries and regions except for the mainland, Macau, and Taiwan.

Just a day ago, Chuang warned that the city may be seeing a “second wave” of infections from travelers returning from countries that have seen their COVID-19 cases rapidly spike in the last few weeks, even as Hong Kong has managed to keep its new infections more or less under control.

When asked by reporters how the Hong Kong authorities will cope with the challenge of large numbers of people returning from overseas to face quarantine, Linda Yu from the Hospital Authority said use of isolation wards would be restricted.

“At the moment we will only admit the symptomatic patients in the isolation wards,” she said, adding that as of this afternoon, there are 954 isolation beds, of which 40 percent are being used.

“We are monitoring the situation every day, and if the cases keep increasing then we’ll try to open more isolation beds, and also we’re now planning to convert some of the general wards into isolation wards to cater for more cases if we need to,” Yu added.

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