Thousands of people living in old tenement buildings in Hong Kong’s Yau Tsim Mong district are being ordered to take coronavirus tests, after tens of Covid cases were recorded in the area.
Residents in 20 tenement buildings in Kowloon should go to a mobile testing station at Kwun Chung Sports Centre or testing vans in the area between Saturday and Monday, Health Secretary Sophia Chan said.
Other residents in the district, who are not covered by the mandatory testing order, were also encouraged to get tested as soon as possible.
“The area is quite crowded and the hygiene condition is not so good,” she said. “There are infection risks. So we’ve decided to expand the mandatory tests in a bid to cut off the transmission chain of the virus as quickly as possible and achieve zero infection in the area.”
Chan added that officers who can speak Nepalese, Urdu and other languages would visit the buildings and offer support for people from ethnic minorities.
On Wednesday, a cluster of infections expanded at the block on 20-26 Reclamation Street. Some residents were evacuated after 27 residents there contracted the virus.
It was common to have irregularly modified sewage pipes at old tenement buildings, said Vincent Ho, a former president of the Hong Kong Institute of Surveyors. These pipes were hazardous because they could help spread the virus.
After an inspection of the exterior walls of the Covid-hit block on Reclamation Street, Ho said he suspected that additional toilets had been fitted to subdivided flats.
Leung Chi-chiu, chairman of the Medical Association’s advisory committee on communicable diseases, said the government should check all the water and sewage pipes of the old tenement buildings as soon as possible. He said misconnected pipes in subdivided flats were a huge threat to public health.
On Thursday, four people living in the block at 15-27A Pitt Street tested positive, according to the Center for Health Protection. They live in three separate flats in the building. All the other residents in the block will have to get tested.
More than 80 Covid cases have been reported in Yau Tsim Mong district in the past two weeks. The patients live on Jordan Road, Temple Street, Canton Road and Woosung Street.
Health officials are now issuing mandatory testing orders if only a single infection is found in buildings in the district. Prior to this, a mandatory test notice was issued only if two cases were recorded in the same building.
Some of those infected in the Tsim Mong district were Nepalese and worked at construction sites hit by Covid outbreaks recently, Chuang Shuk-kwan from the Centre for Health Protection said Friday. Many of these workers were living in the same building with friends and relatives and had frequent social gatherings, Chuang said.
The government would step up anti-epidemic work and education to the ethnic minority community in the area, she said.
The Center for Health Protection said 38 cases, three imported and 35 local, were recorded on Thursday. Fourteen cases were untraceable. Local patients included retired people, a housewife, a domestic worker, a taxi driver, a salesperson and a construction worker.
About 40 people tested positive preliminarily on Friday. They included a school bus driver and a construction worker.
Last month, the government announced a one-off free testing service for all foreign domestic workers. Between December 18 and Thursday, over 25,000 domestic workers have made use of the free testing service at the community testing centers. A total of seven cases have so far been identified, about 0.03% of the participants.
The government encouraged domestic workers to actively participate in the free test to safeguard their health and that of their employers’ families. The community testing centers will continue to offer free services to domestic workers until January 31. In Hong Kong, there are about 380,000 foreign domestic workers, mostly from the Philippines and Indonesia.
Meanwhile, the Hong Kong government announced Friday that it had decided to cancel the fireworks display over Victoria Harbour, which usually takes place on the second day of the Lunar New Year. Also canceled are the lantern carnivals traditionally held across the city. Last year, the Lunar New Year fireworks were called off due to social unrest at the time.