New Covid-19 cases have been recorded in several Kowloon districts including Yau Ma Tei, Jordon and Sham Shui Po as the virus spread among residents in subdivided flats.
Citing unnamed sources, local media reported on Friday that the government was thinking of locking down the Yau Ma Tai district, which has reported more than a hundred cases recently. Law enforcement officers would be deployed to seal off the area. People could move around within the area but would need a negative test certificate to go outside. Food and necessities would be provided there.
If it is implemented, it will be the biggest mandatory test operation launched by the government since early 2020.
On January 15, the government extended compulsory testing to a specified area in Yau Ma Tei. The area is bounded by Nathan Road, Kansu Street, Ferry Street and Jordan Road. A specified area in Sham Shui Po, bounded by Yen Chow Street, Tai Po Road, Maple Street and Lai Chi Kok Road, was later delineated. Within the two specified areas, buildings with one or more confirmed cases found in a unit in the past 14 days will be included in the compulsory testing notice.
On Wednesday, the government delineated a “core area” within the Yau Ma Tei specified area. The area is bounded by Temple Street, Ning Po Street, Reclamation Street and Pak Hoi Street. All residents in the core area are required to be tested.
As so many people in the area have been tested, there would be no point in imposing stay-at-home orders and such a move would not be cost-effective, said Leung Chi-chiu, chairman of the Medical Association’s advisory committee on communicable diseases.
Leung said more infections had recently been confirmed outside the original hotspot zone than within it, so it would make more sense to expand the area covered by the stricter-than-usual compulsory testing.
“There is no point in sealing off the designated area now, as most people there have been tested. So even if one or two infected residents there were not detected, the risk of spreading to the whole of Hong Kong is low,” he said.
“But if you are able to contain the virus at other areas in Yau Tsim Mong district, it’d be more effective in the overall infection control. If you only see the trees but not the forest, how can you put out this big fire?”
The Center for Health Protection said 61 cases, six imported and 55 local cases, were recorded on Thursday. Twenty-six of them were untraceable. Of the local infections, 24 involved residents who live in the Yau Tsim Mong and Jordan districts.
Ten patients have been identified in five flats at Kensington Plaza on Parkes Street. Four of these five units are facing the same direction.
After a site visit, Yuen Kwok-yung, a microbiologist at the University of Hong Kong, said there could be a significant vertical distribution of the cases at Kensington Plaza. He said the first patient was identified in the unit C on the fifth floor but more people who lived in flats on the upper floor were then infected.
He said it was possible that bathing water vapor had carried the virus upward, through the ventilators or leaking pipes, from the lower floor to the upper floor.
Yuen said all residents living in unit C at Kensington Plaza would be evacuated and sent to quarantine centers. He said more tests would be done at Kensington Plaza as no leakage or irregular modification of sewage pipes had so far been identified.
On Thursday evening, the government announced that sewage samples from five residential buildings in Yau Tsim Mong district tested positive. Residents living in the five buildings are required to undergo tests.
Besides, mandatory testing orders have also been issued for four residential blocks in Tseung Kwan O, Yuen Long and Chai Wan.
Sophia Chan, the Secretary for Food and Health, said Friday that flight crews, who had previously been exempt from quarantine, would have to be isolated in designated hotels for 14 days after their arrival.
Meanwhile, Wong Kwok-kin, a pro-Beijing lawmaker from the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions, said the government should forbid people, particularly domestic workers, from setting up sun shelters in public places during the epidemic.
He said such a move could help discourage them from gathering and sharing meals in public at weekends and during holidays, thereby reducing the risks of the epidemic spreading.
Wong was criticized by labor right activists for being unkind to domestic workers, and his suggestion was rejected by the government. Law Chi-kwong, the Secretary for Labor and Welfare, said people could use some light structure for shade in public areas during daytime opening hours if they did not cause danger or obstruction to others.