HONG KONG - The Hong Kong government said late on Thursday night it would provide free tests to foreign helpers living in boarding houses, after an Indonesian maid who stayed in two dormitories tested positive for Covid-19.
Another Indonesian maid has also come out positive in a preliminary test.
Some 6,000 to 7,000 of them are now staying in dormitories while awaiting for their visas and at least one of the dozens who were in contact with the infected maids has since moved out to live with her employer.
Hong Kong University's infectious diseases expert Ho Pak Leung on Thursday (Aug 6) warned the government to not underestimate the risk of having massive clusters at crowded boarding houses, given Singapore's experience with its foreign worker population.
Health officials are now racing against time to track down at least 28 other domestic helpers who came into contact with the Indonesian woman who stayed at two boarding homes - in Wan Chai and Causeway Bay - in July.
The head of the communicable disease branch at the Centre for Health Protection, Dr Chuang Shuk Kwan, on Thursday said officials had tracked down some of the helpers, including one who had joined her employer.
"We need to verify if they have been in touch with their employers. We first need to see if they themselves are infected," Dr Chuang said.
On Wednesday, the authorities said the Indonesian woman had been job hunting after leaving her previous employer on July 20. She developed a fever on Aug 1.
She first stayed at a North Point maid agency from July 20 to 21, then at a Wan Chai dormitory on Lockhart Road with 28 other domestic workers from July 21 to 25, before moving to a domestic helper agency at the Causeway Bay Commercial Building with four other domestic helpers from July 30 to 31.
The authorities are still trying to find out where the Indonesian domestic helper was between July 26 and 29.
Dr Chuang said the second Indonesian maid, who tested positive, had stayed in a Sheung Wan building in July with up to six other helpers. She moved in with her new employer on Aug 1 and was tested after developing a fever a few days later.
Pressure is mounting on the authorities to contain the situation, even as the mainland sends a seven-member medical team to help Hong Kong ramp up its testing abilities.
The government on Thursday extended for another week, till Aug 16, work from home arrangements for civil servants as the third wave of infections in the city show no signs of abating after more than a month.
This week, two wet markets in the Kowloon City district were identified as clusters with about a dozen cases, and fears arose of cross-infections between public hospitals.
On Thursday, 95 new cases were confirmed, bringing the total tally in the city to 3,849, including 46 deaths. Of the new cases, 91 are local.
Earlier this week, on Monday, the government extended social-distancing measures to next Tuesday. They were due to expire on Wednesday. The measures include compulsory mask-wearing in indoor and outdoor public spaces, as well as a cap of two people for public gatherings.
Businesses in a dozen categories such as gyms, cinemas, bars and nightclubs will remain shut for another week too.