Hong Kong's new coronavirus wave proving more aggressive than earlier ones

Cases in latest outbreak hit 350 in less than two weeks; one-third of infections are of unknown origins

Officers from the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department measuring the distance between tables at an eatery in Hong Kong on Thursday. The city is now one of the first places in the region to see a new wave of Covid-19 cases dwarfing previous ones.
Officers from the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department measuring the distance between tables at an eatery in Hong Kong on Thursday. The city is now one of the first places in the region to see a new wave of Covid-19 cases dwarfing previous ones. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

HONG KONG • Hong Kong's new coronavirus outbreak is proving more aggressive than its previous waves of infection, in a cautionary tale that the worst may be yet to come in the global pandemic.

The authorities reported 50 local virus cases yesterday, bringing total infections in the latest wave to over 350. The former British colony is now one of the first places in the region to see a new wave dwarfing previous ones.

The resurgence in the Asian financial hub has moved at an aggressive pace since erupting less than two weeks ago after a long stretch during which residents returned to work and normal life.

About a third of infections in the new outbreak are of unknown origins, signalling that hidden chains of transmission are widespread.

"Countries which controlled the disease well in the early part of the year will remain at risk of outbreaks and even sustained community transmission, until we have a vaccine," said global biosecurity professor Raina MacIntyre from the University of New South Wales in Sydney. "Whether or not the virus has mutated is speculation at this stage, but there is some evidence the dominant strain in the world is more transmissible than the initial strain in Wuhan."

But the size of the new wave in Hong Kong may reflect more testing and earlier detection of cases, and officials are hopeful of minimising economic and social suffering with better management strategies.

Doctors now know better how to treat Covid-19, limiting the number of cases that deteriorate to intensive care or death. The healthcare systems in cities grappling with new outbreaks are also not being overwhelmed.

Still, without an effective and widely distributed vaccine, cities are likely to continue in a state of limbo, where easing of social distancing measures will lead to a spike in infections. The virus' ability to spread silently for weeks is still not fully understood by scientists, some of whom suspect that it can linger in the air for hours.

In mainland China, the province of Guangdong, which neighbours Hong Kong, tightened its entry requirements yesterday in response to the financial hub's new wave of infections, the South China Morning Post reported.

Starting yesterday, Hong Kongers must prove that they have tested negative for the coronavirus in order to be granted approval to cross the border into Guangdong.

The Hong Kong authorities said late on Thursday that those entering Guangdong via Shenzhen Bay Port or Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge must present a certificate showing a valid negative nucleic acid test result for Covid-19. The document has to be issued by one of the city's testing institutions recognised by the government, and the test result will be valid for only 72 hours from the time the samples are collected.

Those allowed to cross the border will still have to undergo 14 days of mandatory quarantine, according to a notice issued by the authorities in the Guangdong city of Zhuhai.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 18, 2020, with the headline Hong Kong's new coronavirus wave proving more aggressive than earlier ones. Subscribe