Covid-19 bounces back after signs of stabilising in Hong Kong

People registering for Covid-19 tests at a mobile testing station in Hong Kong on Jan 17, 2021.
People registering for Covid-19 tests at a mobile testing station in Hong Kong on Jan 17, 2021.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

HONG KONG - After the coronavirus outbreak in the city appeared to be slowly stabilising in the past month, daily Covid-19 infections have again climbed to more than 100 on Monday (Jan 18).

Worried health authorities said at a daily briefing on Monday that the city recorded 107 confirmed cases.

Of these, 102 are local infections and 42 are from unknown sources, while 53 are linked to previous cases. In the last two weeks, the city recorded over 600 new cases, with 160 of them linked to a cluster in the crowded Yau Ma Tei area.

The city now has 9,664, while the death of an elderly patient brought the number of deaths to 163.

Dr Chuang Shuk Kwan, head of the communicable disease branch at the Centre for Health Protection, said the recent surge in infections involves South-east Asians, with more than a quarter found to be Nepalese and Indian.

The health authorities say they are now on "high alert", prepping hospitals to accommodate increased patient load, as the latest Yau Tsim Mong and Jordan clusters balloon.

Officials in early January issued mandatory testing orders to the residents of 20 blocks in the Yau Tsim Mong area, including those living in an old tenement building in Reclamation Street.

More than seven thousand residents in those areas have undergone mandatory or voluntary testing.

Said Dr Chuang at the briefing: "This signifies that there's significant silent transmission in the community, especially in the Yau Ma Tei area."

She noted that the recent cluster started with cases related to construction sites and as the patients live in crowded districts with many old tenement buildings, infections spread quickly.

Hours earlier, Secretary for Civil Service Patrick Nip said the government is "working full steam" to prepare for when the vaccines arrive in Hong Kong, even as it tries to confirm the delivery timeline.

He said the government hopes to complete prep work this month so the voluntary mass vaccination programme can start when the vaccines arrive next month.

When asked if vaccinated travellers would be required to adhere to the existing 21-day hotel quarantine, Mr Nip urged for patience, adding that experts have to review the vaccine data before a decision is made.

Mr Nip, who is in charge of the hotel quarantine scheme in the city, said people arriving in Hong Kong from Feb 20 will have more low-cost hotel room options for their compulsory quarantine.

Almost 10,000 arrivals have stayed in 36 designated hotels since the policy took effect in late December.

Now, 32 of these hotels will continue to be used for quarantine purposes from Feb 20, while four will be replaced. No detail was given as to why the four hotels dropped out.

The update will mean that more than 8,000 of the 10,000 hotel rooms available will cost less than HK$1,000 (S$172) a night. Some 2,800 rooms will cost less than HK$500 a night - double the number of rooms currently available for the price range.

On Monday, the advisory panel on the Covid-19 vaccine said they will recommend to the government that the BionNTech vaccines be approved for use in Hong Kong.

Amid fears that the pandemic is worsening, the Food and Health Bureau said on Sunday (Jan 17) that delivery workers were the third group to be offered free tests, after foreign domestic helpers and construction workers.

Tightened measures, including a ban on dining in at eateries after 6pm and limiting public gatherings to two, have been in place since last December. The government has indicated that measures would likely not be eased in time for Chinese New Year.