Hong Kong may have to go into a virtual lockdown if Covid-19 infections keep surging in the next seven to 14 days, medical experts say.
“The current anti-epidemic measures are actually very strong. All people should follow them,” David Hui Shu-cheong chief of the department of medicine at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said Monday.
“Working from home doesn’t mean that people should dine outside. Restaurants are only for those who have to work in offices.”
If people continue to go outside and spread the virus, the Hong Kong government should consider limiting people from leaving their homes, Hui said.
Yuen Kwok-yung, a microbiologist at the University of Hong Kong, told a commercial radio program, “We might possibly need to lock down, not a lockdown of the whole city, but close to a lockdown.”
Yuen said the latest outbreak could be attributed to failure to control who goes through the border, including quarantine exemptions. Besides, more people dined outside after Father’s Day as a number of social-distancing restrictions were lifted last month.
The current surge can also be linked to people “underestimating the enemy,” he said, adding that people were more lax this time compared with their approach early this year when the first and second wave of Covid cases hit the city.
The Center for Health Protection said Monday that 73 cases were recorded in Hong Kong, including seven imported cases and 66 local infections, within 24 hours on Sunday. Among the locally infected patients, 39 were linked to previous cases while the remaining 27 had unknown sources. The number of cases reported in the city increased to 1,958 as of the end of Sunday.
Apart from these, another 46 preliminary confirmed cases were recorded on Sunday.
Chuang Shuk-kwan, director of the communicable disease division at the Centre for Health Protection, said that if local infections keep growing this week, the government would add new anti-epidemic measures, which could include a lockdown.
Chuang said many recent patients were infected at birthday parties, mahjong gatherings and meals at Chinese restaurants. She said people should avoid social gatherings in the short term.
Although the number of infections on Monday was lower than on Sunday, it could not be seen as part of a downward trend, she said.
The Center for Health Protection said Sunday that Hong Kong recorded 108 cases between 4pm and midnight on Saturday. These comprised 25 imported cases, 35 that could be linked to previous cases and 48 with unknown sources.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced that about 40% of the civil servants would be allowed to work from home from Monday. She said people in all indoor venues, which refers to shopping malls, should wear face masks.
On Sunday, the government rejected medical experts’ criticisms that the quarantine exemption arrangement created loopholes and that the latest wave was attributable to the exemptions.
“The existing exemption arrangement under the compulsory quarantine regime is essential to maintain the necessary operation of the society and the economy, and to ensure an uninterrupted supply of all daily necessities to the public,” a government spokesperson said.
The government said it has been closely monitoring the risk and pressure on public health brought about by imported cases and would continue to adopt coping measures in a resolute manner as necessary.
The spokesman said there had been no confirmed case among exempted people arriving from the mainland, Macao or Taiwan.
On Saturday, the government announced conditions on travelers who had visited the seven specified high risk places, which comprise Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines and South Africa, to reduce the health risk they may bring to Hong Kong.
Between February and May, the Security Bureau allowed more than 200,000 incoming travellers from Taiwan, Macau and the mainland to be exempted from the 14-day quarantine requirement by issuing them notifications of medical surveillance.
Currently, people in 33 categories, including sea and flight crews, are exempted from compulsory quarantine. After local cases re-emerged in Hong Kong from July 5, the government announced on July 8 that all the sea and flight crews were required to take virus tests after arriving.