Luk Chuen House in Lek Yuen Estate in Shatin, the New Territories. Photo: Google Maps

Five Hong Kong people were infected locally with the Covid-19 coronavirus on Sunday and Monday, showing a loophole in efforts to identify patients in the community.

All were related to a food packaging warehouse in Kwai Chung, which puts labels on packaged food supplied to Marks & Spencer and to Jollibee and Fairwood restaurants. Marks & Spencer said it would sterilize its shops and products.

A 34-year-old woman was critically ill in intensive care at Prince of Wales Hospital on Saturday. Living in Luk Chuen House, Lek Yuen Estate in Shatin, the woman developed a cough on May 22 and visited a private clinic near her home three times. She had chest pain and felt dizzy on May 29 and was taken to hospital by ambulance on Saturday.

On May 26, the woman’s 56-year-old husband had a fever and running nose and had visited the same private doctor. The woman and her husband were identified as numbers 1,084 and 1,085 on the list of infected patients in Hong Kong on Sunday. Twenty-five of their colleagues at the Kerry Logistics warehouse in Kwai Chung were sent to quarantine.

On Monday, two colleagues showed “weak positive” test results. At work, they wore masks and gloves when putting labels on pre-packaged food, including chilled meat and fruit, from the United Kingdom. They are being treated at Princess Margaret Hospital.

One of the duo, aged 40, developed a fever and a throat sore on April 27 but was diagnosed with an upper respiratory infection. She lived with her husband and three children at Luen Yuet House, Kwai Luen Estate in Kwai Chung. She used to shop in a wet market in Kwai Shing East Estate. She had a meal with colleagues on May 28.

Another patient was a 30-year-old woman who also lived in Luen Yuet House. She began to feel sick on April 25 and visited a private doctor.

Apart from them, a 27-year-old paramedic from the Fire Department was identified as patient 1,088. He was on the ambulance that took patient 1,084 to hospital on Saturday. He was wearing a surgery mask instead of a N95 mask, and wore spectacles when giving oxygen to the patient.

He had dinner with his girlfriend at Festival Walk on the same day and stayed overnight in a friend’s home in Tai Wai without going back to his home in Lek Yuen Estate. The man is the first paramedic in Hong Kong believed to have caught the virus at work.

Three other paramedics must be quarantined for 14 days because they were not wearing full protective gear while handling the patient on Saturday. Another 12 paramedics who handled patient 1,084 will be under medical observation for two weeks.

The five local infections came after Hong Kong recorded no local cases over 15 days. They will affect the government’s decision on ending social distancing rules after they expire on Thursday. Before these cases, the business community called for an end to the 14-day home quarantine requirements for incoming travellers after the measures expire on June 7.

On Monday, the Centre for Health Protection delivered hundreds of bottles to residents in Kwai Luen Estate and Lek Yuen Estate and encouraged them to return saliva samples for testing.

Chuang Shuk-kwan, head of the communicable disease branch of the Centre for Health Protection, said it was possible that a mini-community outbreak had happened because the virus transmission through asymptomatic patients had not been cut off.

Chuang said the center had tested 31 samples taken from the Kerry Logistics warehouse but all were negative. Chuang said the possibility that the three workers were infected by contaminated goods from the UK could not be ruled out.

However, Yuen Kwok-yung, chair of the Infectious Diseases section at the University of Hong Kong’s Department of Microbiology, said the chance that people were infected by imported goods remained small. Evidence showed that human-to-human transmission was the key way to spread the virus.

Luen Yuet House, Kwai Luen Estate in Kwai Chung, New Territories. Photo: Google Maps

Chui Tak-yi, Undersecretary for Food and Health, said the recent locally infected people were not asked by private doctors to leave saliva samples for virus tests. He said 7,000 clinic doctors in Hong Kong make up the first line of defense to detect infected people and should ask patients to undergo tests even if their symptoms were mild. He also urged the public to stay alert to the epidemic and seek medical help if necessary.

Meanwhile, the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China received a notice from police on Monday that it would not be allowed to hold an annual candlelight vigil to commemorate the June 4, 1989 Tiananmen Square incident, at Victoria Park in Causeway Bay on Thursday due to public health concerns.

The alliance’s secretary-general Lee Cheuk-yan said he was disappointed with the decision, describing it as totally unreasonable and unscientific, and accused police of using social distancing measures to suppress the rally.

Members of the alliance may gather at Victoria Park to light candles and their event would be streamed live online.

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