Hong Kong may need to go into a partial lockdown if the city remains unable to rein in the spread of the coronavirus, a respiratory disease expert who advises the government on the pandemic said on Monday.
Shopping malls and parks were still crowded at the weekend, although fewer people went out on the streets, said David Hui Shu-cheong, chairman of the Department of Medicine and Therapeutics at The Chinese University of Hong Kong.
It would be difficult for the city to break the chains of transmission if people continued to go out, he said.
Unless case numbers start falling soon, the government could impose the most stringent measures, such as requiring people to stay at home for several hours a day and designating one person per household to go out for groceries, he said.
More non-essential businesses like clothing stores could be ordered shut, while opening hours for all stores may be restricted to six hours per day, he said.
The pro-Beijing camp has urged the government to launch a 14-day lockdown, plus a mass virus test, to cut off all virus transmission chains in Hong Kong. Some restaurants and shops said it would be better to have a complete lockdown in a short term rather than fighting an endless pandemic battle.
Mainland health experts also complained that the fourth-wave in Hong Kong had added an extra burden to the anti-virus fight in Shenzhen.
The Hong Kong government on Monday announced it was extending the existing social distancing rules, which were to expire on Thursday, by two weeks to January 6, 2021.
The existing measures such as restrictions on gatherings and a mandatory shutdown of bars, gyms and some entertainment facilities should be given more time to show their effect, said the Centre for Health Protection’s Chuang Shuk-kwan.
“Our mask-wearing rate is very high and we have curtailed our gatherings as much as possible, so maybe we have to be patient for a longer period of time,” said Chuang. “We have done quite well in the past.
“The general public have to also consider that any gathering between people, there’s a risk of transmission. The disease is transmissible before you develop symptoms,” she added.
The Center for Health Protection said there was a total of 85 new cases – seven imported ones and 78 local infections – on Sunday. Of the local patients, 27 had no known sources. About 50 preliminary positive cases were recorded on Monday.
The Centre for Health Protection said everyone who lives at or has visited Shek Lin House of Shek Lei Estate in Kwai Chung, Yat Lai House of Yau Lai Estate in Yau Tong and Block A of Ming Wah Dai Ha in Shau Kei Wan since November 25 will have to be tested after infections were reported in at least four units at each building.
Authorities will also distribute specimen bottles at Lei Yue Mun Estate and Tak Tai Building in Tsuen Wan after several residents there tested positive.
Last Friday, a 63-year-old Covid patient fled from his isolation ward in Queen Elizabeth Hospital. He was found by the police on Sunday night and has since been brought back to the hospital.
Security guards have been deployed to guard the entrance to his ward and there will be increased patrols around the hospital premises.
Authorities were trying to find out where the patient was over the past few days, while the police would also conduct their own probe before deciding whether to press charges against him, health officials said.
Meanwhile, the government was under pressure after a woman died alone at home while waiting to be put into quarantine.
The daughter of the deceased had demanded a full government probe into what happened, according to former Democratic Party lawmaker Lam Cheuk-ting.
The daughter said she tested positive for Covid-19 earlier this month but her mother, who was deemed as one of her close contacts, was not sent to quarantine immediately and was found dead in her Tai Wai flat several days later.
The Department of Health has conceded that there had been delays in sending hundreds of people into quarantine as the number of Covid-19 cases spike.