A testing center in Yau Ma Tei in Kowloon. Photo: Xinhua

Thousands of residents in 43 residential buildings in Hong Kong will have to take mandatory virus tests after the government issued notices to them on Wednesday.

The buildings, mostly in Kowloon and the New Territories with a few on Hong Kong Island, were included in the mandatory virus test scheme after at least two unrelated cases were recorded in each building during the past two weeks.

Chuang Shuk-kwan, the head of the communicable disease branch of the Center for Health Protection, said the virus test operation would be outsourced to private companies and would not significantly increase the workload of health officials. She said it was convenient for people to take tests in community centers.

The government announced Tuesday it would expand its mandatory virus test scheme to cover residential buildings that had reported two unrelated cases, instead of four cases, within 14 days. Prior to this, health officials issued notices to two to three buildings per day on average.

The Center for Health Protection said a total of 54 confirmed cases – seven imported cases and 47 local infections – were recorded in Hong Kong on Tuesday. Of the local patients, 13 had no known sources.

Three residents, who lived in Fung Chak House in Choi Wan Estate, tested positive. Residents of the building were ordered to be tested after scientists from the University of Hong Kong found the coronavirus in four samples from the sewage pipes there between December 23 and 27.

Numbers dropping slowly

An elderly person, who lived in the Kowloon Bay Health Centre & Alice Ho Miu Ling Nethersole Nursing Home, was found to be infected, Chuang said. More than 40 people in the same facility would be sent to the quarantine center at AsiaWorld-Expo, she said.

Four employees of the Star Seafood Restaurant in San Po Kong were also infected. Dozens of their colleagues will be quarantined.

Although the daily number of new coronavirus cases in Hong Kong had started to slowly go down, people should not hold gatherings at home over the New Year period, said David Hui, a respiratory medicine professor from the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

“The numbers had lingered in high figures for a while, now you can see they are obviously on a downward trend, but only slowly,” he said. “Now the most important thing is don’t hold big gatherings.”

There had been a lot of gatherings over Christmas, while the impact of these gatherings on case numbers had yet to show, Hui added. The virus had reached deep into the community during the latest wave of infections, he said.

Leung Chi-chiu, chairman of the Medical Association’s advisory committee on communicable diseases, criticized the government for making a “basic mistake” in efforts to tackle the coronavirus over the past year.

He said authorities were wrong to relax social distancing measures as soon as the pandemic situation showed a slight improvement.

Leung said administrations around the world had been learning from their mistakes.

Various virus types

Nine types of Covid-19 had been identified in Hong Kong, with eight of them being imported, according to research led by Gilman Siu, an assistant professor of the Department of Health, Technology and Informatics at the Polytechnic University of Hong Kong.

In the first-wave of the pandemic in February, type S and L came from the mainland, while type O was a mutated strain that caused many outbreaks in Hong Kong, Siu said. In the second-wave in March and April, type G was imported from Europe, the United States and North Africa. In the third-wave in the summer, type GR originated from a Kazakhstan air crew.

He said type GH from India and Nepal caused the fourth-wave outbreaks in October and November, which had not yet ended. He said it was necessary for health officials to ensure that all incoming travelers would be sent to quarantine hotels without going into the community.

While Chief Executive Carrie Lam did not admit there were any loopholes in the government’s anti-epidemic rules, she blamed the public for having frequent social contacts. The pro-establishment camp pointed their fingers at four “high-risk groups” and urged the government to strengthen its monitoring of them.

An article published by Wen Wei Po said authorities should fix the loopholes to stop virus transmission among medical staff, family groups, outdoor activities groups and domestic workers.

Elizabeth Quat, a lawmaker with the pro-Beijing Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, said the government should consider forbidding domestic workers from going out on their rest days or require them to take their holidays on weekdays.

In the fourth-wave of the pandemic, only 12 cases were linked to an outbreak in a boarding house for domestic workers in Tai Po, compared with 730 patients in a singing and dancing cluster, which involved many rich women and pro-Beijing celebrities.

None of the members of the singing and dancing cluster have so far been punished or blamed by the government.

Wu Mei-lin, a coordinator for the Hong Kong Women Workers’ Association, said in August that forbidding domestic workers to go out and relax on their rest days would create psychological pressure on them as employers would probably ask them to work at home.

Read: HK to expand its mandatory virus test coverage

Read: HK residents tested after virus found in sewage