HONG KONG: Hong Kong has evacuated more than 100 people from a residential building in the New Territories district of Tsing Yi, after four residents in two different apartments tested positive for the coronavirus, authorities said early on Tuesday (Feb 11).
Locals were forced to leave in the early hours as health officials in masks and white overalls scrambled to work out whether the virus had spread through the 35-storey complex that houses some 3,000 people.
Officials said Tuesday's relocation of residents in Tsing Yi district was a precautionary measure after three members of the same family contracted the virus.
The family lived 10 floors directly below another man who had already been diagnosed as a carrier.
AUTHORITIES UNCLEAR ON ROUTE OF TRANSMISSION
"We are not sure what was the exact route of transmission," Wong Ka-hing, from the Centre for Health Protection, told reporters.
"It could still be through the usual method of droplets or contact."
Nonetheless the occupants of 35 flats connected to the same drainage system were moved out.
Health secretary Sophia Chan said four residents who showed flu-like symptoms were taken to a hospital isolation ward but later tested negative for the virus. The others were taken to quarantine camps.
Hong Kong has to date confirmed 49 cases of the coronavirus, including a cluster of 10 family members who had all shared a hotpot meal with an infected person.
The virus has killed more than 900 people, all but two in mainland China.
Most of Hong Kong's population of more than seven million people live in high-rise buildings.
During the 2003 SARS outbreak, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, high concentrations of viral aerosols in building plumbing in the Amoy Gardens high-rise complex were drawn into apartment bathrooms through floor drains. The initial exposures occurred in these bathrooms.
SARS killed nearly 300 people in Hong Kong.
"STAY INDOORS": CARRIE LAM
Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam on Tuesday appealed for residents to stay indoors as much as possible.
"As part and parcel of enhancing social distancing we are making an appeal to the people of Hong Kong to stay at home as much as possible," Lam told reporters.
"But at the moment, we're making this appeal, we're not going for compulsory closures because Hong Kong is a free society."
"NOT ENOUGH MASKS"
Residents on Tuesday morning found their neighbourhood filled with police and health officials.
"Of course I'm scared," a 59-year-old resident, who gave her surname as Chan, told AFP.
"I live with my son, daughter-in-law, grandchildren and my husband. We seldom go out already because we don't have enough masks. I don't allow my grandchildren to play in the hallway. Now we can't even stay at home."
The financial hub has been hit by panic buying even though the government has said imports remain steady.
There is an acute shortage of face masks - including in hospitals where stocks are being rapidly depleted.
On Saturday, the city began enforcing a 14-day mandatory quarantine for anyone arriving from mainland China after resisting calls to close the border.
So far, about 2,200 people have crossed the border. The vast majority have been told to self-quarantine at home while a few dozen without addresses have been taken to government facilities.
Yuen Kwok-yuen, an expert from a University of Hong Kong team that is studying the virus, said the city's bid to halt outbreaks should be easier now that arrivals from the mainland have been dramatically curbed.
"We are now still seeing the rise of case number because the infection chain is not broken yet," he told reporters.
"If we all have done what we can, the infection chain will soon be broken."