A total of 26 domestic workers were fined for violating the mask and social distancing rules in August. Photo: HK Police

Hong Kong reported 31 local infections with unknown sources on Wednesday, the highest since early August, after the coronavirus spread to districts across the city.

The Center for Health Protection said Thursday that a total of 90 cases – 11 imported ones and 79 local infections – were recorded on Wednesday. Of the local infections, 21 were linked to the “dance club cluster,” the biggest infected group in Hong Kong with more than 500 testing positive.

“We can’t say that the ‘dance club cluster’ or the overall epidemic has been under control as we identified 31 cases with no known sources yesterday,” Chuang Shuk-kwan, the head of the communicable diseases branch at the Center for Health Protection, said in a media briefing on Thursday.

“The virus could have infiltrated into every corner in the society.”

Chuang added that some of the newly-infected could not remember where they had been, making it difficult for health officials to trace transmissions.

She said it was too early to comment on whether the fourth-wave had peaked as the effects of the new social-distancing rules, face-to-face class suspensions and work-from-home measures would only be seen one or two weeks later.

During the third wave of the pandemic, the number of untraceable cases in Hong Kong was more than 50 in late July, while the total number of cases amounted to 120-130 per day. In early August, about 30 untraceable cases from a total of 80-90 per day were recorded. The figures were declining gradually from mid-August.

‘Construction site cluster’

On Wednesday, five more people were added to the “construction site cluster” in Lohas Park, while two more were identified in the cluster at the Fong Shu Chuen Day Activity Centre and Hostel in Shau Kei Wan.

Others included a teacher at the Tung Wah Group of Hospitals Lee Ching Dea Memorial College, a taxi driver and a chef at the Superior Manya Japanese Restaurant in Mong Kok.

The chef could have infected his 60-year-old family member, who is a truck driver. The family member was detected to be infected by the Shenzhen customs on Monday, according to the Center for Health Protection.

An analysis of the genome sequence of the coronavirus collected over the past two months showed that the origin of the fourth wave started from a Nepalese man, who arrived in Hong Kong and tested negative twice in September, said Ho Pak-leung, head of the University of Hong Kong’s Center for Infection.

When the man started developing symptoms, he was not given a Covid-19 test. He infected his family members, who dined out in Tsim Sha Tsui, Ho said.

Commenting on the Hong Kong government’s plan to raise the fine for those violating social distancing or mandatory mask-wearing rules from HK$2,000 (US$258) to HK$10,000, Ho said the increased fine was reasonable, but raised concerns about whether the police and health officials had strictly enforced the rules at indoor places.

Since the “dance club cluster” was identified last month, none of its members had been penalized, although a video showed many people dancing without masks in a restaurant.

Leung Chi-chiu, an infectious diseases expert, also said the government should strictly enforce the law before saying the penalty was not enough. He added that the increase in fines was unfair to the underprivileged, including foreign domestic workers.

“Two thousand dollars may not be a small amount for segments of our society with low incomes, especially for our domestic helpers,” Leung told RTHK. “If we increase the amount to a very high level, such that they cannot pay, there may be a question whether we’re fair to them, because they would be selectively prosecuted and be facing sentences.

“I think it is important that we, first, enforce the law strictly. If we find at that stage that there is not enough deterrence and people are still gathering unlawfully, in that case I think there may be a better reason to increase the level of the fine,” Leung said.

On August 9, police said they checked several places that domestic workers often gathered on their rest days. They said they fined a dozen domestic workers HK$2,000 each for violating the mask and social distancing rules.

On August 30 Law Chi-kwong, the Secretary for Labor and Welfare, wrote in an article that between late July and August 25, a total of 26 domestic workers had been fined. Law said he understood that the fine was almost half the monthly salary of a domestic worker, but domestic workers had been warned.

However, many domestic workers told the media that they were not given any warning before being fined.

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