4th wave of Covid-19 in Hong Kong because rules eased too soon: Expert

Civil servants ought to work from home now so the private sector can follow, says Dr Leung Chi Chiu of the Hong Kong Medical Association, giving an example of what the city's government must do to control the virus situation.
Civil servants ought to work from home now so the private sector can follow, says Dr Leung Chi Chiu of the Hong Kong Medical Association, giving an example of what the city's government must do to control the virus situation.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

For a group of tai-tais in the city, dancing without a care in the world has proven to be quite infectious, especially when they mingle with others, with masks off.

But the fast-expanding Covid-19 cluster linked to at least 21 dance clubs in Hong Kong, and responsible for 250 patients stricken with the disease, may not be the cause of the fourth wave of infections.

The patients include a growing list of prominent women such as billionaire Rossana Wang Gaw and Madam Nancy Chiu, wife of Cable TV owner and Far East Consortium chairman David Chiu.

Dr Leung Chi Chiu of the Hong Kong Medical Association told The Straits Times he believes the fourth wave arrived soon after the third ebbed in early September, as measures were eased then before local transmission was eliminated.

He noted that the government made the decision amid economic pressure and because people were tired of social distancing.

With the Mid-Autumn and Double Ninth festivities last month, it was a recipe for "excessive social mixing and gatherings" that led to greater local spread, he said.

Infections rebounded from mid-September to last month, and there were more than 30 local cases in the first two weeks of this month.

"Because of the delay in institution of control measures, the increase in the number of community transmissions triggered a super-spreading event among the dancing club-goers," said Dr Leung.

Hong Kong yesterday recorded 85 confirmed cases, including one imported case. The source of infection for 16 local cases is unknown.

Another 60 people are positive after preliminary tests, but are not confirmed cases. The city now has 5,866 cases and 108 deaths.

Of the 84 local infections, 63 were linked to the dance club cluster. These clubs operate as dance studios and party rooms where functions can be held. "Even if you close down all the dancing facilities, that would not be enough because this activity only constitutes a small part of the total activities involved (in Covid-19)," Dr Leung said, adding that the dancers would have come into contact with others in the last three weeks.

The government yesterday ordered applications for dancing activities in indoor facilities it manages to be suspended from today, and for all such activities to be banned from Saturday until further notice. Earlier, it had already ordered bars, pubs, nightclubs and saunas to close again from today for a week, a decision that angered many in the food and beverage industry who feel it is unfair, as no clusters linked to the sector have been detected.

Industry players have said that up to half of the 1,400 licensed bars risk folding, while some larger restaurants may also face the same fate as banquets are to be capped at 40 people from today.

Beyond the tighter rules and forced testing of those who have visited dance clubs, Dr Leung thinks the government needs to quickly limit a wide range of activities to control the situation.

For instance, civil servants ought to work from home now so the private sector can follow. Face-to-face classes must be stopped and non-essential, religious, recreational and sports activities that involve crowds must be suspended. "If you want to contain a major forest fire involving multiple spots, you need to contain the spread of the fire besides trying to put out the fires that are burning," Dr Leung said.

He warned that if health facilities are overwhelmed, the outbreak could go out of control and "that would not be resolved until we have the vaccines available".

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 26, 2020, with the headline '4th wave in HK because rules eased too soon: Expert '. Subscribe