The building that's been sealed off in Shatin. Photo: Google Maps

A housing estate in Shatin in the New Territories was suddenly sealed off by the Hong Kong government on Thursday morning after mainland officials repeatedly urged the territory to control the epidemic.

At 5:55am on Thursday, the government posted a statement on its website, saying it would enforce a compulsory testing notice at the building in Shatin from 6am.

Residents entering and leaving the building had to provide an SMS notification through their mobile phones or related certification containing the negative test results from Covid-19 tests arranged by the government.

This was to show they participated in the tests from December 17 to 21 as required by the earlier compulsory testing notice issued by the government. 

The government said it would arrange for staff to visit each household in the building, named Ming Yan House, to check if all the residents had undergone the test. Any person who could not provide test results would be fined HK$5,000 (US$645) and receive a compulsory testing order.

However, the government added that it would first issue verbal warnings in the enforcement operation and allow residents to undergo immediate testing, given that members of the public have generally been compliant to compulsory testing notices.

Caspar Tsui Ying-wai, the Secretary for Home Affairs, said more than 400 residents at Ming Yan House had previously been tested. Tsui said residents welcomed the operation and the government’s determination to “achieve zero infections” in the community.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam also visited the building on Thursday and stayed for 10 minutes.

However, district councilor Yau Man-chun slammed the government for sending officials to knock on the doors of every unit at Ming Yan House and create panic there in the morning. Yau questioned why the building was sealed off as there had been no reported cases there for four days.

Last week, six infected people were discovered in four flats at the Ming Yan House building. Officials ordered the evacuation of the 32nd floor on December 16 and also ordered anyone who had spent at least two hours in the building between December 1 and 16 to take a test.

On December 14 Zeng Guang, a member of the High-level Expert Panel of the National Health Commission, told the Guangzhou Daily that the policy of “preventing the coronavirus from entering and spreading within the city” had not been fully implemented in Hong Kong, resulting in an extra burden for the anti-pandemic battle in Shenzhen.

On Tuesday, Hong Kong’s Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung and health officials visited Shenzhen and met officials from the National Health Commission and the Shenzhen municipal government.

Media reports said mainland officials had urged the Hong Kong government to implement a plan to “achieve zero infections” in the special administrative region. Mainland officials said they had identified all the patients mainly by sealing off the infected areas and running mass virus tests.

On Wednesday, Lam said in a media briefing that she and the central government had the same target – achieving zero infections – but Hong Kong should choose the best strategy, according to the situation there. She said it was because the systems, social situations and people’s views on the governments in Hong Kong and the mainland were different.

Lam admitted that even if the government had chosen the right strategy, there was always room to improve.

The Center for Health Protection reported a total of 71 new cases, including 10 imported ones and 61 local infections, on Wednesday. Of the local patients, 30 had no known sources. About 50 people also tested preliminarily positive for the virus on Thursday.

Chuang Shuk-kwan from the Centre for Health Protection urged people to stay vigilant over the Christmas and New Year holidays as clusters of infections had already appeared due to family gatherings during the winter solstice earlier this week.

Besides, Chuang said health officials were seeking more details from the World Health Organisation over the South African variant of coronavirus that’s believed to be more transmissible and may hit young people harder.

On Wednesday, samples from two students who recently returned from Britain were found to match with the new variant in the UK. One of the students, 14, is still being treated in hospital while the other, who is 17, has been discharged. Authorities are following up on their close contacts.

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