The Hong Kong government announced Tuesday evening it was locking down an area with three old buildings in the Yau Ma Tei district for mandatory tests after a “successful” and similar operation was completed in a nearby suburb over the weekend.
From 7pm, residents in three buildings at 9-27 Pitt Street and 3 Tung On Street were required to undergo tests by midnight. They have to stay in their homes until all people are tested. The government aims to end the move at 6am on Wednesday so people can go to work.
“The government has issued compulsory testing notices in respect of 15-27 Pitt Street and 3 Tung On Street. However, outbreaks in the area remained severe,” a government spokesman said. “From January 11 to 25, more than 40 confirmed cases were recorded in the three buildings.”
More lockdown orders could be imposed to curb the coronavirus after a “successful” operation in Yau Ma Tei and Jordan over the weekend, Chief Executive Carrie Lam said in a media briefing before the weekly Executive Council meeting.
The weekend lockdown helped stop the spread of the virus as 13 cases were identified from more than 7,000 residents living in about 150 buildings, she said. It was unfortunate that details of the operation were leaked last Friday as a large number of government officers and medical staff had been given notice in advance, she added.
The future lockdowns would be “ambush-style” without any prior announcements so residents would not leave in advance, Lam said. They would be smaller in scale, held in multiple places and be finished within a shorter period of time, she said.
During the lockdown on the weekend, more than 200 Jordan residents did not comply with the requirement and could face penalties, she said, adding that the Center for Health Protection was following up the cases.
The government also announced it was expanding the coverage of its mandatory test schemes to an expanded area in Jordan and new specified areas in Hung Hom and Mong Kok.
The previously-announced “Jordan specified area” has been expanded to cover places bordered by Nathan Road to its east, Austin Road to its south, Man Cheong Street, Man Wai Street, Ferry Street and Canton Road to its west and Kansu Street to its north.
Also, the previously-announced area in Sham Shui Po will be maintained.
The newly-added Mong Kok area is bounded by Nathan Road to its east, Kansu Street to its south, Ferry Street to its west and Dundas Street to its north. The area covers the wholesale fruit market in Yau Ma Tei.
The Hung Hom specified area is bounded by Station Lane to its northeast, Dock Street and Po Loi Street to its southeast, Winslow Street and Hung Hom South Road to its southwest and Chatham Road North to its northwest.
For buildings within the four specified areas, if there is one or more confirmed case found in a unit in the past 14 days, or where no confirmed case was found but the sewage samples were constantly testing positive, the buildings would be covered by the compulsory testing notices under the Prevention and Control of Disease (Compulsory Testing for Certain Persons) Regulation (Cap. 599J).
Outside these specified areas, a compulsory testing notice will be issued only if infected people are found in two or more units in the same building in the past 14 days.
Chui Tak-yi, the Undersecretary for Food and Health, said the epidemic situation in Hong Kong had remained severe over the past week as a total of 494 cases were recorded, 41% of which had unknown sources. Chui said the government had decided to extend the current social distancing and mask rules by one week to February 3.
The Center for Health Protection said a total of 64 cases, including one imported case and 63 local infections, were recorded on Monday. Of the local cases, 21 were untraceable. More than 50 people tested positive preliminarily on Tuesday.
On Sunday, 10 people at five apartments at Block 5 in Laguna City in Lam Tin were identified as infected. They included six residents and four domestic workers. As three of the five apartments are units E on the 15th, 16th and 17th floors, the coronavirus virus could have been transmitted vertically in the building, officials said.
All the residents of units E on all floors of the building have been transferred to quarantine centers. Health officials believed the outbreak in the building was caused by a security guard who lived in Yau Ma Tei.
After visiting the building, Yuen Kwok-yung, a microbiologist at the University of Hong Kong, said domestic workers suffered a higher risk of being infected at home as they had to do the chores in toilets and kitchens. He said the virus could be spread through leaking sewage pipes or ventilators in bathrooms and kitchens.
Yuen added that 463 residents at Block 5 in Laguna City had previously taken the tests but about 200 to 300 residents could have fled or skipped the tests.
Chuang Shuk-kwan, the head of the communicable diseases branch at the Center for Health Protection, said Tuesday that some preliminary positive cases were recorded at the building, pending confirmation.
David Hui Shu-cheong, chairman of the Department of Medicine and Therapeutics at The Chinese University of Hong Kong, earlier suggested sealing off the Yau Ma Tei fruit market and its neighborhood after more than 70 cases were confirmed from some 20 buildings near the market.
Hui said Tuesday that such lockdowns may not be necessary if more than 90% of the residents there undergo Covid-19 tests.
Cheung Chi-cheung, the president of the Kowloon Fruit & Vegetable Merchants Association, said it would not be feasible to keep up to 1,000 workers there for two days to complete the mandatory tests. He also said suppliers would suffer major losses in a lockdown, while the fruit supply in the city would also be disrupted.