Hong Kong flags 'worrying' trend of unlinked COVID-19 cases; suspends face-to-face activities in kindergartens
HONG KONG: Hong Kong authorities warned on Thursday (Nov 12) of a "worrying" trend of unlinked COVID-19 cases, and will suspend all face-to-face activities in kindergartens and childcare centres for two weeks, starting from Saturday, amid more than 170 outbreaks of respiratory illnesses.
On Friday, the territory reported six new COVID-19 cases, taking the city's total tally to 5,436. Two are imported cases who travelled from Germany and Indonesia, while the remaining local infections comprise two linked and two unlinked cases.
The Centre for Health Protection (CHP) on Thursday called on the public to stay vigilant as Hong Kong reported 23 confirmed cases including seven local transmissions, of which only one was traced to a previous case.
"With the high infectiousness of this virus, it is possible that we will be seeing more and more cases, whether they are linked or unlinked, in the coming days," said CHP's head of communicable disease branch Chuang Shuk-kwan.
"WE COULD NOT FIND A DEFINITE LINK"
The six unlinked cases reported on Thursday comprise five drivers and a 42-year-old salesman who held meetings with clients at work and attended a wedding banquet before he tested positive for the coronavirus.
"So this is a bit worrying because for these cases, including drivers who stayed in various districts in Hong Kong, we could not find a definite link among them. This indicates that there is still quite a bit of transmission in the community," said Dr Chuang.
Dr Chuang said that one of the clients the salesman met during the infectious period "will be sent to a quarantine camp".
Meanwhile, the wedding banquet guests will be asked to get tested for COVID-19 "to make sure that there is no source of infection or a cluster of cases as a result of that wedding banquet".
Dr Chuang clarified that the wedding banquet "was not held during the confirmed COVID-19 patient's communicable period, it was held during the incubation period".
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She added that some of the patient's close contacts are teachers and students who also need to be tested. As a precautionary measure, CHP has also asked the relevant schools to suspend classes for one to two days.
KINDERGARTENS, CHILDCARE CENTRES SUSPENSION
All kindergartens and childcare centres will suspend face-to-face activities from Saturday to Nov 27, the Hong Kong government announced on Thursday.
The Department of Health had until Thursday morning recorded 171 upper respiratory tract infection outbreaks, including 101 which involved kindergartens or childcare centres, said food and health secretary Sophia Chan.
She said the outbreaks are not linked to COVID-19 based on tests conducted, but described the situation as "worrying".
The outbreaks occurred "in spite of all the measures that we have put in place in the schools, including personal hygiene, mask wearing, etc", Professor Chan added.
The government would monitor the situation during the two-week suspension and would not rule out extending the suspension if the situation does not get better, she said.
In the meantime, the Education Bureau said schools should remain open and have staff members ready to handle administrative affairs and parents' enquiries.
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The statement comes a day after the announcement that Hong Kong and Singapore will launch an air travel bubble on Nov 22.
There will be one flight a day into each city carrying 200 passengers each way and the number of flights will double from Dec 7.
Travellers have to take the dedicated flights, but will have no restrictions on their travel purpose and do not have to follow a controlled itinerary. They will also not be subject to quarantine or stay-home notice.
However, they must test negative on COVID-19 polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests within 72 hours before their scheduled departure time.