Hong Kong civil servants gradually returned to government offices on Monday after a month-long work-from-home arrangement during the coronavirus outbreak. Meanwhile, the number of confirmed cases in the city has hit 98, with two further “probable” cases over the weekend.
The special work arrangement for government staff was implemented on January 29 though, last Thursday, the government said normal public services would begin to resume from this week. Departments will continue to allow flexible working hours to reduce staff use of public transport during peak hours, as well as to adopt a roster system to limit the number of staff in the office.
While the government said measures to reduce social contact and infection control measures would be implemented, the risk of infection would still be increased when more people are returning to work at offices, according to Chuang Shuk-kwan, head of the Communicable Disease Branch of the Centre for Health Protection (CHP).
“When more people are back at work, there will be a greater flow of people, and it will definitely increase the risk [of infection],” Chuang said at a press conference on Sunday.
Chuang added that the resumption of work was a government decision and the Scientific Committees of the CHP did not hold a discussion on the arrangement.
She urged people returning to work to maintain personal hygiene by washing their hands frequently, as well as to avoid having meals together to lower the risk of infection.
As of Monday morning, Hong Kong has recorded 100 confirmed cases of Covid-19, which was first detected in Hubei, China. It has infected more than 89,000 people globally, whilst over 3,000 people have died from the SARS-like disease.
Sophia Chan, Secretary for Food and Health, told RTHK’s Millennium on Monday that the government’s decision to resume work was based on the public expectations of government services.
Chan said the government had discussed the work resumption plan with four experts on the anti-epidemic steering committee, and none of them objected. But she said a flexible work arrangement is important to allow civil servants to work safely.
“If social distancing is not maintained, the risk of the outbreak will be increased. But we hope to lower the risk by asking staff to wear face masks, and arrange flexible work time and meal times,” Chan said.
Evacuation of Hongkongers
According to Patrick Nip, the Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs, the government had contacted more than 660 Hong Kong citizens in Wuhan as of Sunday evening. Over 450 of the stranded citizens have confirmed that they will take the first chartered flight home.
The government has yet to announce the flight schedule, but local media reported that six Cathay Pacific planes had been prepared and they will fly to Wuhan earliest on Wednesday, citing sources.
“Staff from the Department of Health and Hospital Authority are conducting health evaluation of each case, to confirm whether they can meet the requirements of boarding the plane,” Nip wrote on his Facebook page.
Nip added the government is also processing other urgent cases, including pregnant women, students who need to return to Hong Kong to sit for the university entrance exam on March 27, as well as those with serious illnesses who have to seek medical treatments in the city.
“The process of handling these cases is quite complicated. Apart from understanding their health condition, we also have to evaluate the feasibility of using land-based transportation from each town and village to Wuhan,” he said.
On Sunday, petrol bombs were hurled at South Kwai Chung Jockey Club General Outpatient Clinic – where protests were staged by residents last month in opposition to the government’s plan to use it as a designated clinic for treating suspected coronavirus cases with mild symptoms.
Kowloon Bay Health Centre General Out-Patient Clinic was also fire bombed. The incident happened on Sunday night at around 10:30 pm, after residents held a small protest.