Face-to-face classes for primary 1-3 pupils in Hong Kong will be suspended for two weeks from Monday after medical experts confirmed that the fourth-wave of Covid infections had begun.
The move comes just over a week after authorities ordered kindergartens to close for a fortnight due to outbreaks of upper respiratory tract infections.
The Center for Health Protection said 26 cases were recorded, including five imported cases and 21 local infections, within the 24 hours on Thursday. Of the local patients, nine had no known source.
Health Secretary Sophia Chan said it was worrying that infection control measures in place failed to prevent those outbreaks, and this did not bode well for the new wave.
“As the transmission routes of upper respiratory tract infections and Covid-19 are similar, if Covid-19 spreads at schools, the risk posed to the community is very high,” she said.
Chan said authorities were not ruling out suspending all classes at primary and secondary schools if the coronavirus situation worsens.
She said the situation in the territory was deteriorating rapidly and appealed to the public to be extra vigilant against the virus and avoid unnecessary gatherings, warning that otherwise there would be an unstoppable wave of infections.
An outbreak involving the Starlight Dance Club in Wan Chai is worsening after nine more people linked to the cluster came down with Covid-19. Seven other people who had been to the club also tested positive preliminarily.
Chuang Shuk-kwan of the Center for Health Protection warned that the infections might spread further because the dance instructors taught at other venues as well.
“At least three dancing studios are involved according to our preliminary investigations. The first one is Starlight, the second one is HeavenlyDance, the third one is Dance Culture,” Chuang said. HeavenlyDance is located in Sheung Wan and Dance Culture is in Causeway Bay.
Apart from these, a construction worker, a security guard and a taxi driver were among nine untraceable local cases announced on Friday.
Three housewives, who lived in Tsuen Wan, North Point and Mong Kok respectively, also contracted the virus. One of them was at a birthday party attended by 100 people at the Broadway Night Club in Tsim Sha Tsui.
There were also more than 40 preliminary positive cases, and many of them are untraceable, Chuang said.
On Friday, several medical experts confirmed that Hong Kong had already seen the fourth-wave as local infections increased rapidly.
“A very big loophole in our anti-epidemic measures is that not all patients with symptoms are tested for the virus. That’s why the virus continues to spread and we’re seeing the fourth wave of infections,” said Yuen Kwok-yung, a microbiologist at The University of Hong Kong.
Yuen urged the government to introduce mandatory virus test schemes on people with respiratory symptoms.
“Every Hong Kong citizen must view the issue with a new perspective,” he said. “No one has immunity against the virus. If we don’t cooperate and test for the virus when we have symptoms, the transmission of the virus can’t be stopped. It’s nothing to do with politics and human rights,” he said.
Joseph Tsang of the Hong Kong Medical Association said a fourth wave had arrived in Hong Kong with a surge in untraceable cases. About half of the newly identified cases involved unknown sources , compared with only 20% previously, Tsang said.
“They are spread across different sectors and districts, proving that the community has quite a number of silent transmission links to cause that to happen,” Tsang said, adding that people should now be prepared for another wave of infections and should cut back unnecessary gatherings.