Hong Kong reports more unlinked coronavirus cases, one new death

Hong Kong had registered a sharp increase in the number of cases in the past week. PHOTO: REUTERS

HONG KONG (BLOOMBERG) - Hong Kong on Wednesday (July 15) continued to grapple with its worst coronavirus outbreak since the pandemic began, reporting a slew of new cases as authorities step up social-distancing measures.

Of the total number of confirmed cases yesterday, 14 were classified as local and 5 as imported, according to the city's health department.

Although the number of local cases more than halved from Tuesday, that does not include the 37 patients who tested positive on a preliminary basis today.

Authorities could not trace how half of the people contracted the disease among the confirmed local cases, raising the risk that the virus will continue to spread undetected among people in the community.

Among those who could not be traced to their sources was a part-time taxi driver as well as a housewife who lives in Tsz Wan Shan, an area that has been at the centre of a cluster of recent cases, local news station RTHK reported.

"We don't want anyone to feel like the local infection situation is easing," said Dr Chuang Shuk-kwan, an official with the Department of Health. "The number of new local cases may actually be quite high based on the high preliminary number."

The city also saw its ninth coronavirus-related death on Wednesday.

The latest fatality, a 90-year-old woman, had been infected at an elderly care home in Tsz Wan Shan and is the second Covid-19-linked death from the care home.

The latest developments came on the heels of Hong Kong implementing its strictest suite of social distancing measures as the government tries to keep the outbreak from spiraling out of control.

Up until this month, Hong Kong was widely seen as a model of success in containing the virus, reporting only 15 cases of local transmission from May through June.

Starting Wednesday, bars, gyms and beaches across the city were shut, public gatherings were limited to four people, and people refusing to wear masks on public transport will be fined. Dining in at restaurants is now also prohibited after 6pm.

Authorities have ramped up testing for the virus, conducting more than 10,000 Covid-19 tests a day now, according to Dr Chuang.

Priority for testing would be given to people exhibiting symptoms, those admitted to hospitals, and residents of buildings where there had been at least two unlinked cases.

"In these two weeks, we hope citizens, especially the elderly, can try their best to stay at home, and go out less to the markets or restaurants," she said.

Not everyone is following the rules.

A 64-year-old man became the first person to face prosecution for violating the latest restrictions after he refused to put on a surgical mask on the subway, according to the South China Morning Post.

The previous day, the newspaper reported that a 39-year-old visitor from South Korea on Monday tried to escape three times from mandatory quarantine, and even jumped out of a moving vehicle.

The Asian financial hub's struggles illustrate how the coronavirus can roar back even stronger than the initial outbreak.

For example, Australia's second-largest city and several American states have moved to re-impose lockdown restrictions as new waves of infection surge.

Hong Kong's latest wave of infections began in early July, setting daily records for local cases.

Since late January, the city has recorded more than 1,500 confirmed cases of Covid-19 infection and nine deaths linked to the disease.

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