A family of four who lived at the Metropolis Residence in Hung Hom tested positive after their domestic worker was found to be infected. Photo: Google Maps

A total of 33 people have been sent to quarantine centers in Hong Kong after an outbreak of coronavirus left 12 people infected at a boarding house for foreign domestic workers in Tai Po.

After two domestic workers were discovered to be infected on Sunday, 10 more were added to the cluster on Monday, according to Hong Kong’s Center for Health Protection.

A 54-year-old domestic worker, who lived with her employer in Hung Hom, had body aches on November 29. She took a Covid-19 test last Saturday and stayed overnight in the boarding house in Tai Po over the weekend. She tested positive on Sunday.

Her employer, a six-month-old baby and two other family members tested positive on Monday.

A 36-year-old domestic worker, who lived in a flat in Tai Po, also stayed overnight in the same boarding house last weekend. She has tested positive, but has remained asymptomatic.

Six more domestic workers who visited or lived in the boarding house were also infected.

Chuang Shuk-kwan, the head of the communicable diseases branch at the Center for Health Protection, said 33 close-contact people had been sent to quarantine centers as they were linked to the 12 who were infected. Chuang said a mandatory virus test order had been issued to those who had stayed in the boarding house for more than two hours from November 15.

She said health officials were not sure how many people had been there due to a lack of records. Chuang urged employers to ask their domestic workers whether they had been to the boarding house.

Compulsory testing

“We’re worried that the outbreak of the boarding house in Tai Po may affect more families throughout the territory. That’s why we’re issuing a compulsory testing notice even though we have a list of visitors, we’re not sure whether that is comprehensive,” Chuang said.

“We’re not sure how long this transmission has occurred. That’s why we’re asking those who have visited since a month ago to come forward for testing.”

The Center for Health Protection said 98 cases, nine imported and 89 local, were recorded on Monday. Of the local patients, 30 had no known source.

One case was added to each of the clusters at AsiaWorld-Expo and in the Yata Department Store. Another case was linked to the “dance club cluster.”

One more patient was added to the “construction site cluster” in Lohas Park, while two more were added to the cluster at the Tseung Kwan O-Lam Tin Tunnel.

On Tuesday, more than 70 people tested positive preliminarily, according to the Center for Health Protection.

On Monday, the government ordered a partial evacuation of Kwai Tung House in Tung Tau Estate in Wong Tai Sin after nine people in three units on different floors felt ill and were subsequently confirmed to have Covid-19.

One more person was identified there on Monday. Medical experts said the coronavirus could have been spread there via the washroom of an infected flat.

“As four Covid-19 patients lived at unit 2315, there should be a high viral load in their stool,” said Yuen Kwok-yung, a microbiologist at the University of Hong Kong.

Rising numbers of cases

The virus could have become aerosolized, then drawn into the kitchen at apartment 2415, which is close to the bathroom of their downstairs neighbor, Yuen said. As for the infections on the 29th floor, the virus could have traveled via the sewage venting pipe up on to the roof, before subsiding downwards to infect residents there, he added.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam said the number of cases amounted to 648 during the week ended Monday. This compared with 661 cases a week earlier and 613 cases during the week ended November 30.

She said although the number had not increased significantly, people should stay vigilant to the anti-epidemic rules, especially during the coming Christmas and New Year holidays.

David Hui Shu-cheong, chairman of the Department of Medicine and Therapeutics at The Chinese University of Hong Kong, said Tuesday that the current Covid-19 outbreak in Hong Kong could have reached its peak.

He said he had seen fewer people on the streets in the past few days due to tightened social distancing measures, which would help bring down infections from next week.

Meanwhile, the government said it would ask the Legislative Council to approve another round of anti-pandemic relief funds before Christmas. It did not disclose the amount of the funds. 

Lam said the fourth round of relief measures would target firms hardest hit by social distancing rules, such as those ordered to close and restaurants that cannot provide evening dine-in services.

Read: HK boarding house infections spark new contact hunt