The Hong Kong government will bring home 200 more stranded citizens in China’s Hubei province – the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak – on Thursday, after the first two chartered flights carrying 244 residents landed on Wednesday.

The first batch contained 14 fewer residents than originally estimated, according to the Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs. Patrick Nip said three people were sent to monitored isolation after failing to pass temperature checks ups in Hubei, while a pregnant woman decided to take the next chartered flight for undisclosed reasons.

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Hong Kong residents stranded in Hubei Province return home on March 4. Photo: GovHK.

Those who arrived in Hong Kong on Wednesday were sent directly to Chun Yeung Estate in Fo Tan for a 14-day mandatory quarantine. The Hospital Authority will send a team of 30 staff to the quarantine facility for two weeks from Thursday. They will work with personnel from the University of Hong Kong (HKU) and the Department of Health to collect samples from returned citizens to test for the deadly virus.

Nip said the government delegation of more than 40 staff, who travelled to Wuhan city to facilitate the evacuation, will be placed under medical monitoring upon their return. Their number of public interactions will also be reduced, he added.

Speaking on RTHK’s Millennium radio programme on Wednesday, HKU’s leading microbiologist Ho Pak-leung estimated that five to 25 of the returning Hongkongers will be confirmed to have contracted the virus, based on the infection rate in Hubei. But Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan said it would be difficult to predict the number of infections, as the citizens were scattered across different cities in Hubei.

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Hong Kong residents prepare to leave Hubei province. Photo: GovHK.

As of Thursday morning, Hong Kong has 104 confirmed coronavirus cases and one probable case. Among the newly infected included a 43-year-old man, who was in charge of the virus-hit Buddhist temple Fook Wai Ching She in the Maylun Apartments building in North Point.

The Centre for Health Protection (CHP) revealed on Wednesday that 18 infected persons had either visited the temple in the past two months, or had come into contact with infected people who had visited the temple.

Fook Wai Ching She
Centre for Health Protection send staff members to disinfect the Fook Wai Ching She temple. Photo: RTHK screenshot.

The CHP urged other temple-goers who had developed symptoms, such as fever and shortness of breath, to contact the centre and seek treatment at a hospital.

More hospital isolation rooms

The Hospital Authority announced on Wednesday that some public hospital general wards will be converted into isolation rooms by the end of April in order to provide 400 to 500 more beds for coronavirus patients.

The Authority said it currently has 1,200 isolation beds, which is enough to cope with the present demand. But if the outbreak worsens, it said it will enhance ventilation systems in some general wards and turn them into negative pressure rooms, which allow air to flow in but not out.

Libby Lee, Director of Strategy and Planning of the Hospital Authority
Libby Lee, the director of strategy and planning of the Hospital Authority. Photo: RTHK screenshot.

Libby Lee, the Authority’s director of strategy and planning, said the new rooms will only be used to accommodate recovering coronavirus patients, who no longer display symptoms but need further hospital monitoring before discharge.

“In order to free up more isolation facilities for the confirmed and suspected cases, we find that we need a more protective environment for the patient, but not to a high degree,” Lee said.

Diamond Princess passengers

The first batch of 108 passengers from the Diamond Princess cruise finished their 14-day mandatory quarantine at Chun Yeung Estate in Fo Tan on Wednesday night. Two of them tested positive for Covid-19 after returning from Japan on a government-chartered flight on February 20.

The number of Diamond Princess cruise passengers quarantined, including the first batch, was 225. As of Wednesday, a total of nine passengers were infected while one has been classified as a “probable” infection.

Kelly Ho has an interest in local politics, education and sports. She formerly worked at South China Morning Post Young Post, where she specialised in reporting on issues related to Hong Kong youth. She has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, with a second major in Politics and Public Administration.