A Filipino domestic worker tested positive after she stayed with friends in Shui Pin Wai Estate on August 29, 2020. Photo: Google Maps

Hong Kong’s epidemic rules will be relaxed from Friday as infections continued to decline.

The number of people allowed to gather in public will be relaxed from two to four while restaurants will also be allowed to seat four people per table.

After beauty parlors, some outdoor sports venues and entertainment venues such as cinemas were allowed to reopen last Friday, the government said mahjong parlors, games arcades and most sports venues, except swimming pools, would be allowed to reopen this Friday.

However, bars, karaoke lounges, sauna rooms and party rooms will stay shut for the time being.

“In considering the factors of who comes first and what is the priority, not only are we considering the epidemic situation, we are considering the necessity of the activity, as well as whether they are essential to daily life,” Food and Health Secretary Sophia Chan said on Tuesday.

Chan said the public should stay vigilant because some new cases were still untraceable, meaning that there were asymptomatic patients in the community. She said patients identified by the government’s universal testing program came from various sectors in society, with different backgrounds and professions.

The Center for Health Protection said Tuesday that six cases were recorded in the 24 hours on Monday, including three imported cases and three local infections. Among the three local cases, two were identified by the mass testing.

In the first week of this month, 57 local infections were recorded, down from 94 cases in the week ended August 31.

As at 8pm on Monday, health officials have collected specimens from more than 1.2 million people, out of which more than 856,000 have been tested, Civil Service Secretary Patrick Nip said.

Sixteen patients have been identified in the mass virus tests so far. Of these, six were linked to a cluster identified at an industrial building in Tai Wai. These were found after one of them, aged 50, tested positive in the universal testing scheme. Up to 30 people working on one of the floors have been placed under quarantine.

“It showed the effectiveness of our program. It also showed the importance of testing more people in ending the latest wave of infections which has lasted for 10 weeks,” Nip said.

“If these cases were not picked up by our program, perhaps they would only be identified after they showed symptoms and infected others.”

He also said that about 1,500 people had been tested more than once under the program.

Last Friday, a 39-year-old Filipino domestic worker was identified as a Covid-19 patient in the mass test scheme. She lived with her employer in a village house in Tai Tseng Wai in Yuen Long and had been to gatherings with compatriots in an apartment in Shui Pin Wai Estate on August 29 and 30. She has been asymptomatic.

Chuang Shuk-kwan, head of the communicable disease branch of the Centre for Health Protection, said the worker had stayed overnight with her friends in that apartment and could have taken off her mask for some time. Chuang said the worker’s employer and friends were sent to a quarantine center.

On September 2, a 92-year-old man, his 89-year-old wife and a 42-year-old domestic worker submitted samples for testing. Living together in the Victoria Towers in Tsim Sha Tsui, they tested positive on September 4 and were sent to hospital for quarantine.

The domestic worker had developed a sore throat on August 22 while the couple showed illness symptoms on August 29. They had visited a clinic doctor but were not tested.

Chuang said people who had symptoms should seek medical treatment, instead of waiting for the mass tests.

David Hui Shu-cheong, chairman of the Department of Medicine at The Chinese University of Hong Kong, said the mass testing helped close loopholes caused when some clinic doctors did not test patients.

Meanwhile, Edward Yau, Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development, said the government was in discussions with 11 countries, including Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, Australia, France and Germany, about setting up travel bubbles.

“Of course the timetable would be a matter of bilateral agreement between Hong Kong and the partnering countries,” he said. “It all depends on how ready and how comfortable both parties are with the situation.” 

Read: Hong Kong eases restrictions as infections fall

Read: Hong Kong eases epidemic rules after cases decline