Mainland tourists at Golden Bauhinia Square in Wan Chai, Hong Kong, in 2017. Photo: Xinhua

Hong Kong may have achieved zero untraceable local Covid cases for 26 days as one recent case involving a four-year-old boy was likely to be false positive.

Last Saturday, the Center for Health Protection said a kindergarten student, who lived in Ho Man Tin with his parents, tested positive. The case was categorized as local with an unknown source. About 20 classmates and teachers were sent to quarantine centers. Parents are allowed to stay with their children.

On Thursday, medical experts said the case should be a false positive as no antibody had been found in the child’s sample after he showed illness symptoms on May 12. The boy tested negative recently.

Earlier this month, a 29-year-old staff member at BGI Hong Kong, a virus testing firm, tested positive but authorities later found that his sample could have been contaminated, meaning that the case was a false positive.

Yuen Kwok-yung, a microbiologist at the University of Hong Kong, said the boy could have been infected in January with a small amount of virus remaining in his body until recently. Yuen said the virus could remain in human body for up to six months.

Infectious diseases expert Leung Chi-chiu said if the boy’s case was negative, Hong Kong had achieved zero untraceable local infections for 26 days and would soon be able to begin talks with the mainland about resuming quarantine-free travel.

Leung said it was possible that there were still virus transmission chains in the community but health authorities could be able to trace and stop them. He said imported cases remained a threat to Hong Kong, especially when territory residents continued to return home from Taiwan, which reported hundreds of cases daily.

A swab sample is collected at a makeshift Covid testing site at the Queen Elizabeth Stadium in Hong Kong. Photo: Anthony Kwan/AFP

He said mainland officials were checking on a confirmed case involving a 43-year-old man who flew to Shanghai from Hong Kong.

The man, who had recovered after catching Covid in Italy in February, arrived in the SAR last month. He spent 21 days in a quarantine hotel and several days in a Tin Shui Wai hotel before flying to Shanghai on May 16. It has remained unclear whether the man tested positive because residual virus remained in his body, or if he was reinfected in Italy or Hong Kong.

Greater Bay Area

On the sidelines of the four-day Boao Forum from April 18, Chief Executive Carrie Lam suggested to her Macau counterpart, Ho Iat-seng, that the two special administrative regions could resume quarantine-free travel if a system was set up to forbid HongKongers from crossing into the mainland through Macau without undergoing quarantine.

Ho said Hong Kong had to achieve zero Covid-19 cases for 14 consecutive days before quarantine-free travel could resume between the two SARs. Prior to this, Lam was told by Vice Premier Han Zheng that Hong Kong should keep working on controlling Covid-19 before any discussion about “border reopening” could begin.

From late January 2020, travelers have been required to be quarantined for 14 days when crossing between Hong Kong and the mainland. Since then, the number of inbound travelers in Hong Kong had decreased by 95%.

Children wearing masks play in Hong Kong. A case involving a boy of four is thought to be a false positive. Photo: Vernon Yuen/NurPhoto/AFP

Last November, the government launched the Return2hk scheme, which allowed Hong Kong residents in Guangdong province to return to the city without needing to quarantine. Last month, it expanded the scheme to cover Hong Kong residents in all mainland provinces and municipalities. It said it planned to allow mainlanders to visit Hong Kong without being quarantined. 

Starry Lee, chairperson of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, said Hong Kong could suggest to the central government allowing vaccinated HongKongers to visit the cities in the Greater Bay Area without being isolated. Lee said a daily quota on quarantine-free travelers should be set up initially for monitoring purposes.

Vaccine passport

Yiu Si-wing, a lawmaker representing the tourism sector, said the Hong Kong government should speed up its discussion with European countries about setting up travel bubbles, given that many of them would launch their vaccine passports in June.

Danny Lau, honorary chairman of the Hong Kong Small and Medium Enterprises Association, said he was not optimistic that Hong Kong could form travel bubbles with any European country as the territory still required people coming from Europe to be quarantined for 21 days.

Meanwhile, Macau, which has reported no local Covid-19 case for more than 400 days, is seeking to grant vaccine passports to mainland tourists. Since last September, mainlanders have been allowed to enter Macau without quarantine but they still have be tested.

Lawmaker Jose Chui Sai-peng suggested that vaccinated people should be allowed to travel between Macau and Zhuhai without having tests. Chui said mainland tourists would have a stronger initiative to visit Macau under such scheme, which could then extend to the Greater Bay Area and other parts of China.

Jabs for youngsters

On Wednesday, the Hong Kong government said it considered allowing children between 12 and 15 to receive the BioNTech vaccine.

Patrick Nip, the Secretary for Civil Service and the official heading the government’s vaccination drive, said Thursday the government was seeking more information from the manufacturer and hoped to give jabs to younger children in the summer.

However, Leung Pak-yin, former Hong Kong Hospital Authority chief and an advisor to the government’s vaccination program, said the authorities should not rush to give vaccines to people aged 12-15 in the summer. Leung said it would be better in September.

On May 12, a 31-year-old Filipino domestic worker called Gemalyn Gabon was taken to Princess Margaret Hospital after receiving the BioNTech shot. Her condition turned critical and remained serious on Saturday. On Tuesday, her situation improved and she could breathe by herself and talk to her family over the phone.

Gabon’s sister in the Philippines told local media that she was surprised to get a call from Gabon. She said her sister seemed to have recovered.

Gabon, who came to Hong Kong from Dubai in January 2020, was praised by her employer as hard-working and able to take the initiative. The employer said Gabon had suffered from headaches for two hours after a first dose of the BioNTech vaccine last month but did not seek medical help.

Read: HK tightens quarantine rules for Taiwan incomers